How to use the top 10 medicinal plants and herbs

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Before the advent of drugs, plant remedies were the go-to medicines, and they can serve you just as well today as in the past. While there are many thousands of plants, any one of which can serve a medicinal purpose, some are better known than others, and can provide relief from common ailments.

Here, I’ll review the use and benefits of 10 important herbs and medicinal plants, many of which you can grow yourself to ensure you always have some on hand.

No. 1 — Aloe vera

Aloe vera1 is a succulent plant well-known for its soothing qualities, especially for skin conditions such as burns, rashes, cuts and scrapes, but also for more serious skin conditions such as psoriasis. I have hundreds of aloe plants at my home and harvest them every day for topical use on my skin and also for eating. It is one of my medicinal plants.

In one animal study,2 an ethanolic extract of aloe vera gel had an overall antipsoriatic activity of 81.9%. Its wound healing abilities stem from the gel’s disinfectant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, antibiotic and antibacterial properties.

Properties related to a compound called glucomannan also help accelerate wound healing and skin cell growth. As an adaptogen,3 aloe vera gel may also be used internally to help your body adapt to stress.

Aloe vera contains about 75 potentially active compounds, including lignin, saponins, salicylic acids and 12 anthraquinones (phenolic compounds traditionally known as laxatives). It also provides campesterol, β-sisosterol and lupeol, and the hormones auxins and gibberellins that help in wound healing and have anti-inflammatory action.4

The pulp contains most of the healing compounds, including5,6 polysaccharides7 such as mannose (which is great for gut health and has immune-boosting benefits), essential amino acids your body needs but cannot manufacture, polyphenol antioxidants, sterols (valuable fatty acids), vitamins and minerals.

While you can purchase aloe vera gel at most health food stores and pharmacies, if you grow your own, you’ll always have fresh aloe on hand when cuts, scrapes or even psoriasis flare-ups occur. For medicinal use, be sure to select an aloe species with thick, “meaty” leaves. A good choice, and one of the most popular, is Aloe Barbadensis Miller.8

To harvest, select an outer, mature leaf, and using a sharp knife, cut the leaf as close to the base as possible. Remove the spines by cutting along each side.

  • For topical use — Simply cut a 1- to 2-inch piece off, then slice it down the middle, revealing the gel, and apply it directly to your skin. Aside from soothing burns, including sunburn, or cuts and scrapes, it also works great as an aftershave for men. For sunburn, fresh aloe gel is the most effective remedy I know of, besides prevention.
  • For internal use — If you’re going to eat it, you can use a potato peeler to peel off the outer rind, then scrape off the gel and place it in a small glass container. I like mixing mine with some lime juice. Simply blend together with a handheld blender for a delicious immune-boosting aloe shot.

While fresh aloe vera is very safe, you should not use it internally or externally if you’re allergic. If you’re unsure, perform a patch test on a small area and wait to make sure no signs of allergic reactions occur.9,10,11

No. 2 — Lemongrass

Lemongrass, an herb noted for its distinctive lemon flavor and citrus aroma, has been used traditionally to treat stomach aches, high blood pressure, common cold, convulsions, pain and vomiting.12 Lemongrass benefits listed by Organic Facts include:13

“[R]elief from insomnia, stomach disorders, respiratory disorders, fever, pain, swelling, and infections. The antioxidant activity of the lemongrass herb maintains the immune system and protects against antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

It even helps in maintaining optimum cholesterol levels, managing type 2 diabetes, and promoting healthy skin. It is extensively used in aromatherapy and helps combat fatigue, anxiety, and body odor.”

The leaves and extracted essential oil are the parts most commonly used, and depending on the form can be taken orally, applied topically or inhaled (as aromatherapy) for the following conditions:

Relieve stress, anxiety, irritability and insomnia by diffusing a few drops of lemongrass essential oil.14

Relax and tone your muscles; relieve muscle pain, period cramps and headaches by rubbing a few drops of the essential oil mixed with carrier oil onto the area, or diffuse as an aromatherapy treatment.

Energize tired feet by mixing essential oil and 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts in a bowl of warm water — You can also create your own foot massage oil by mixing diluted lemongrass oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, and adding other essential oils as desired, such as sweet almond, geranium and sandalwood.15

Treat cuts and scrapes by rubbing a small amount of diluted essential oil over the area — Lemongrass essential oil has antibiofilm properties against staphylococcus aureus16 and interrupts the growth of bacteria in the body.17

Treat gastrointestinal problems by consuming lemongrass tea or lemongrass-infused water — Lemongrass oil has anti-ulcer effects,18,19 stimulates digestion and helps regulate bowel function.20

Improve sleep by drinking a cup of lemongrass tea or lemongrass-infused water before bed.21

Relieve pain associated with headaches, muscle and joint pain, muscle spasms and sprains, either by applying diluted essential oil topically, inhaling the scent by diffusing the essential oil, or by drinking lemongrass tea or infused water.

Improve insulin sensitivity by drinking lemongrass tea or infused water — The citral present in lemongrass has demonstrated ability to regulate blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity,22 and testing shows the citral content of decoctions and infusions are the same as that of fresh lemongrass.23 Tea is basically a weak infusion. You could also make your own lemongrass decoction. For basic instructions, see The Herbal Academy.24

Keep in mind, however, that since lemongrass essential oil can lead to lowered blood glucose,25 it may be contraindicated for people taking oral diabetes or antihypertensive medications, as well as those who are diabetic and hypoglycemic. Take special precautions if you have been diagnosed with diabetes or hypoglycemia or if anyone in your family suffers these conditions.

Treat oily hair by massaging a few drops of diluted essential oil to your scalp and let sit for 15 minutes before washing as usual.26

Fight body odor naturally — With its antifungal and antibacterial properties, diluted lemongrass essential oil can be used as a natural deodorant.

No. 3 — Dandelion

Dandelions contain vitamins A, B, C and D, and can be used as a remedy for fever, boils, diarrhea and diabetes.27 Dandelion leaf tea has diuretic, mild laxative and digestive aid properties, while tea made from dandelion roots has detoxifying properties, and can help relieve liver, gallbladder and prostate problems.28

Dandelion root is also antirheumatic, and may help dissolve urinary stones. 29 Dandelion leaves are usually picked during the spring,30 while the roots are often harvested in autumn or winter, since they’re believed to be sweeter during these seasons.31

Since dandelions are widely available and are extremely simple to grow, you can easily harvest them to make a tea of your own from fresh ingredients. You may also opt to buy tea bags made from dried organic dandelion roots or leaves.

While dandelion tea is considered generally safe to consume, it may cause allergic reactions like itching, rashes and runny nose in people who are allergic to ragweed and other related plants, including chamomile, chrysanthemums and marigold.

No. 4 — Sage

Sage has been used as a medicine for thousands of years and boasts a long list of potential health benefits, including the following:32

Aids digestion — The rosmarinic acid found in sage acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, soothing your stomach and preventing gastric spasms. Sage can help reduce the incidence of diarrhea and gastritis.

Boosts cognitive function — Research has shown even small amounts of sage, taken as food or inhaled as an essential oil, can be an effective brain booster, increasing concentration, memory recall and retention.

In vitro and animal studies have confirmed several sage species contain active compounds shown to enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.33

Improves bone health — Sage contains a superior level of vitamin K, which along with its high calcium content supports strong bones and teeth.

Aids diabetes management — Sage possesses compounds known to mimic the drugs typically prescribed for managing diabetes. As such, it appears to regulate and inhibit the release of stored glucose in your liver, which balances your blood sugar, helping to prevent Type 2 diabetes or assist in managing the condition if already present.

Authors of a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition34 said, “[I]ts effects on fasting glucose levels … and its metformin-like effects … suggest sage may be useful as a food supplement in the prevention of Type 2 diabetes mellitus by lowering the plasma glucose of individuals at risk.”

Promotes healthy skin — Given its many antioxidant properties, sage is useful to counteract the signs of aging such as age spots, fine lines and wrinkles. These antioxidants protect against free radicals known to damage your skin cells and cause premature aging. Some have had success using sage in the form of a tincture or topical salve to treat skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.

Strengthens immunity — Sage contains antimicrobial properties researchers suggest, when applied in the form of an essential oil, is effective in inhibiting the growth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus.35

In addition, sage is a natural expectorant and useful to clear mucus and reduce coughs.36 Consider adding a drop of sage essential oil to a cup of tea or hot water the next time you have a cold.

Treats inflammation — Antioxidant compounds in sage can help neutralize free radicals and prevent them from creating oxidative stress in your body.37 Sage is effective with respect to inflammation that affects your brain, heart, joints, muscles, organ systems and skin. To reduce inflammation, chew fresh sage leaves, drink sage tea or apply a sage tincture.

Eases pains — Sage essential oil can be used in a bath or incorporated into a massage oil to help relax muscles. When combined with a carrier oil and applied to your lower abdomen, sage essential oil can also help soothe menstrual cramps and pain.

No. 5 — Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the highest sources of the polyphenol apigenin, a powerful inhibitor of an enzyme on the surface of your cells called CD38. While CD38 is useful for your immune function it also is a major consumer of NAD+ which is the most important coenzyme in your body.

You need NAD+ to fuel another enzyme called PARP, an enzyme instrumental in the repair of damaged DNA. When you are regularly exposed to electromagnetic fields, PARP is regularly activated and consumes NAD+, which is one of the reasons it is so low in most of us, aside from the fact that simply aging tends to lower it.

When NAD+ is lowered, then PARP doesn’t function, and you don’t repair your DNA damage. This is one of the reasons why I pay attention to keeping my NAD+ levels high and why I use chamomile every night.

Additionally, the volatile oils found in chamomile flowers are said to be responsible for most of its beneficial properties,38 which include an ability to:39,40

  • Calm nerves, promoting general relaxation, relieving stress41 and controlling insomnia
  • Ease allergies, inflammation42 and infections
  • Alleviate muscle spasms
  • Relieve nausea and flatulence
  • Ease stomach ailments, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease,43Crohn’s disease44 and irritable bowel syndrome

Chamomile mustn’t be taken by people who are allergic to daisies, asters, chrysanthemums or ragweed. Chamomile is also known to interact with some drugs and substances, so exercise caution if you’re taking anticoagulants, antiplatelet medication, blood pressure medicines, diabetes drugs, sedatives, drugs broken down by your liver such as statins and antifungals.

No. 6 — Echinacea

Before antibiotics, echinacea was used as a general cure for various infections and wounds, including malaria, scarlet fever and syphilis.45 Centuries ago, Native Americans primarily used echinacea to help treat the common cold. Today, common uses include:

  • Boosting your immune system — The compounds in echinacea may help improve your immune system. In a study46 published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, echinacea has been shown to help reduce the severity and duration of colds if it is administered right away once symptoms appear. However, if you use echinacea several days after getting a cold, it won’t have much of an effect.
  • Fighting against bacteria and viruses — Echinacea contains a compound called echinacein, which can help against bacterial and viral infections. According to a study47 in Pharmaceutical Biology, echinacea exhibited antimicrobial properties and is effective against 15 different pathogenic bacteria and two pathogenic fungi.
  • Speeding up wound healing — When applied to a wound, echinacea may help speed up the formation of new skin cells, while helping prevent an infection thanks to its antibacterial properties. According to a study48 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the compound responsible for echinacea’s wound-healing benefit is echinacoside, which is present in several varieties of the flower.

To learn more about this valuable plant and how it can benefit your health, see “10 Potential Benefits of Echinacea.” One of the easiest ways to obtain the benefits of echinacea is brewing homemade tea by simmering one-fourth cup dried echinacea flowers in 8 ounces of filtered water for 15 minutes.

No. 7 — Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, known as a multipurpose herb and “rejuvenator,” has been used in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years.49 It’s a powerful adaptogenic50 herb, meaning it helps your body manage and adapt to stress51 by balancing your immune system,52 metabolism and hormonal systems.53

Ashwagandha also has natural pain reliever (analgesic) properties,54 which can help increase physical strength, and its rejuvenating effects can promote general health when used regularly.

Flavonoids and other compounds are the active ingredients that give ashwagandha its many powerful properties. In one study,55 bioactive withanolides — naturally occurring steroids — in ashwagandha were identified as agents that suppress pathways responsible for several inflammation-based illnesses, including arthritis, asthma, hypertension, osteoporosis56 and cancer.

Withanolides in ashwagandha also have immunomodulating properties,57 described as substances that can either stimulate or suppress your immune system to help fight infections, cancer and other diseases.

One of the alkaloids in ashwagandha, called somniferin, helps promote relaxation and sound sleep. A study58 at the University of Tsukuba in Japan found it can relieve insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

As an adaptogen, ashwagandha is frequently used to support healthy adrenal function, which can be adversely affected by persistent stress, be it physical or psychological. Research shows the root reduces cortisol levels, restores insulin sensitivity and helps to stabilize mood.59

Ashwagandha also supports sexual and reproductive health in both men and women, and may be used as an aid to boost your libido. In men struggling with infertility, ashwagandha has been shown to balance their luteinizing hormone,60
which controls reproductive organ function in both men and women.

It’s been shown to improve the quality of semen in infertile men,61 in part by inhibiting reactive oxygen species and improving essential metal concentrations, including zinc, iron and copper levels. Other research62 suggests ashwagandha improves semen quality by regulating important reproductive hormones.

Ashwagandha can also help boost testosterone levels in men,63,64 which can have a beneficial effect on libido and sexual performance. In otherwise healthy women, ashwagandha has been shown to improve arousal, lubrication, orgasm and overall sexual satisfaction.65

In addition, ashwagandha’s ability to rebalance hormones (including thyroid hormone, estrogen and progesterone) has been shown to improve polycystic ovary syndrome66 and relieve symptoms associated with menopause.67

Ashwagandha also has antitumor and blood production (hemopoietic) capabilities, and benefits the cardiopulmonary, endocrine and central nervous systems, all “with little or no associated toxicity.”68

Ashwagandha is contraindicated69 for, and should not be used by pregnant women, as it may induce abortion; breastfeeding women, as it may have an effect on your child; and people taking sedatives, as ashwagandha may augment the sedative effects.

Also, while ashwagandha appears to be beneficial for thyroid problems, if you have a thyroid disorder, use caution and consult with your doctor, as you may need to tweak any medications you’re taking for it. To learn more about this incredibly useful plant, see my most recent ashwagandha article.

No. 8 — CBD oil and/or whole hemp oil

The medical benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) are now increasingly recognized, and we now know the human body produces endogenous cannabinoids and that this endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in human health by regulating homeostasis between your bodily systems, such as your respiratory, digestive, immune and cardiovascular systems.

According to Project CBD, at least 50 conditions70 are believed to be improved by CBD, including pain, seizures, muscle spasms, nausea associated with chemotherapy, digestive disorders, degenerative neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD and high blood pressure.

CBD is nonpsychoactive, nonaddictive, does not produce a “high” and has few to no dangerous side effects. In states where CBD is becoming widely used, there are also few reports of negative social or medical consequences, in fact, CBD has been shown to provide valuable benefits for those struggling with opioid addiction.

Endogenous cannabinoid production declines with age and, according to clinical nutritionist and expert on phytocannabinoids, Carl Germano, endocannabinoid deficiency has been identified in people who have migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory and neurological conditions and a variety of treatment-resistant conditions.

A paper71 in Translational Psychiatry also found low levels of anandamide (one of the endocannabinoids your body produces naturally) are a statistically positive indicator for stress-induced anxiety.

According to Germano, one of your best and healthiest options may be to use whole hemp oil rather than isolated CBD (from either hemp or cannabis). The reason for this is because CBD is just one of more than 100 different phytocannabinoids found in whole hemp, and the synergistic action between them is likely to produce better results.

According to Germano, CBD alone cannot fully support your body’s ECS. You need the other phytocannabinoids and terpenes, which are very complementary to the phytocannabinoids, as well. To learn more, see my interview with him, featured in “The endocannabinoid system and the important role it plays in human health.”

In the past, before the signing of the new Farm Bill that legalizes the growing of hemp in the U.S., the leaf, flower and bud of the hemp plant could not be used in the production of CBD-rich hemp oil. The oil had to be pulled from the stalk and stem of the plant only — the less concentrated part.

With the new law, all parts of the plant can be used, which will make processing easier and more economical, as the cannabinoids are more concentrated in the leaves, flowers and buds. The law also makes it legal to grow hemp in every state, so if you wanted to, you could grow it in your backyard.

While the raw unprocessed plant could be juiced, processing will convert the cannabinoids into more usable forms. Germano offers the following advice:

“[To process it], you can take the leaf, flower and bud. You can blend it and store it in the refrigerator. Over a day or two of exposure to heat, air, light and moisture, it’ll decarboxylate to some extent and you’ll benefit more from that … [P]robably an ounce or two [of raw plant] would do the trick as a healthy plant beverage.”

No. 9 — Milk thistle

While most people consider milk thistle a pesky weed, it actually possesses remarkable medicinal benefits72,73 that make it worth keeping around. Notably, milk thistle has been prized for centuries for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral properties.

It is also highly regarded as a liver tonic due to high amounts of a chemical compound known as silymarin. Silymarin is a group of flavonoids known to help repair liver cells damaged by toxic substances. As such, milk thistle greatly improves the overall functioning of your liver, with specific applications related to cirrhosis of the liver, chronic liver inflammation and liver damage from alcohol and other intoxicating substances.

Silymarin has also been shown to prevent the formation of gallstones,74 support prostate health and treat prostate cancer.75 Under the direction of your doctor, you may want to consider adding milk thistle to your diet if you are dealing with a liver-based problem such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, jaundice and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.76

Silymarin also activates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme inside your cells that plays an important role in metabolism,77 energy homeostasis and cellular repair.78 It also inhibits the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)which, when chronically activated, may increase your risk of cancer.

While all parts of the milk thistle plant are edible, silymarin is contained in the seeds only. Whether or not you are able to grow your own, high-quality, organic milk thistle is inexpensive and readily available at your local health food store. Below are some ways you can incorporate this unique herb into your diet:79

  • Powdered — Use a mortar and pestle to crush milk thistle seeds into a powder that can be added to soups, stir-fries and other dishes
  • Salads — Because the entire plant is edible, you can add milk thistle flowers, leaves, roots and stalks to salads or incorporate them into cooked dishes
  • Smoothies — For a healthy liver smoothie,80 soak 2 tablespoons of milk thistle seeds in filtered water overnight; the next morning, add the milk thistle (and soaking water), 1 cup of lemon juice, one-third cup of lycium berries and 1.5 cups of ice to your blender and combine until smooth
  • Snacks — Although it may be a bit of an acquired taste, milk thistle seeds can be eaten dry, as is
  • Tea — Crush either or both milk thistle seeds and dried leaves to make a loose tea blend you can steep in an infuser with hot water; add a healthy sweetener of your choice to tone down the somewhat bitter flavor, or add a peppermint teabag for a different taste sensation81

No. 10 — Tulsi

Tulsi, also known as holy basil, is an Ayurvedic herb considered vital in India. Like ashwagandha, it’s a powerful adaptogen with antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, analgestic, antioxidant and adaptogenic properties, just to name a few.82

There are many tulsi products available today, including tea, tablets, powder, extracts and tulsi essential oil. Among its many benefits, tulsi may help:

Manage blood glucose levels — Tulsi has hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects, which may be beneficial to diabetics. One study noted that after being given the tulsi leaf powder, diabetic rats had “a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar, uronic acid, total amino acids, total cholesterol, triglyceride, phospholipids and total lipids.”83,84

Boost immunity — The leaf extract of tulsi was found to have immunotherapeutic potential in mammal subjects. The researchers noted the “crude aqueous extract of O. sanctum (leaf) possesses some biologically active principles that are antibacterial and immunomodulatory in nature.”85

Ease stress and anxiety Compounds found in tulsi leaf extract, namely ocimarin and ocimumosides A and B, have anti-stress effects.86 A test done on human subjects found that taking the plant extract may help ease generalized anxiety disorder.87

Improve dental health — Using tulsi tea as a mouth rinse may have benefits for your oral health. A study88 found an herbal mouth rinse of natural herbs like neem, clove oil, tulsi and more were able to inhibit oral bacteria like Actinomyces sp., E. nodatum, P. intermedia and more.

Boost cognitive function — One study89 found dementia-induced rats had improved cognition after being given tulsi leaf extract.

Promote liver health — Tulsi may have hepatoprotective effects, and was found to help protect against induced liver damage among rat subjects.90

Protect against different kinds of infections — Tulsi is believed to help alleviate various bacterial infections, including urinary tract infection,91 dermal infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus and other bacteria92 and respiratory tract infections like pneumonia93

Ease pain — Sipping tulsi tea may help you acquire its antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. One study notes that it may be a potential alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).94

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Protect your gums and your brain with K2

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Has it ever occurred to you that the overall picture of your dental health is really a reflection of your physical health? That’s the premise of Dr. Steven Lin, a dentist who uses a holistic approach and who says less-than-stellar oral health results from issues in other parts of your body.

According to Lin, if people view their mouth as the “gatekeeper” of their gut and keep their microbiome balanced and healthy, the positive results will show themselves in a healthy mouth — teeth, gums and all — and a healthier body overall.

By all means, brush your teeth after meals and floss daily, but besides looking at your teeth and your microbiome, Lin suggests that the next thing to look at is the content of your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator or, more precisely, the foods you put in them and subsequently into your mouth. Maintaining a healthy diet that includes enough vitamin K2 will benefit your teeth and gums from the inside out.

In fact, using this approach with children could ensure they grow up without such issues and even develop naturally straight teeth. For adults, focusing on the gut first could mean never having to get fillings, not to mention other dental procedures many dentists and orthodontists insist on as a matter of course.

One of the biggest problems people have in regard to gum disease is that they’re lacking in vitamin K2, aka menaquinone, which causes bleeding gums. Over time, it could mean the loss of gums and bone. But even if you begin supplying more K2 to your body, unfortunately, your gums and bone don’t grow back.

Finding the key in vitamin K2 ended up changing Lin’s approach to dentistry. In fact, Lin says it’s all related to vitamin K2, both inside and outside your teeth. He shows how gun disease can be prevented and how it can be stopped in its tracks — if it’s caught early enough — and why it’s important to cure the cause, not just treat the symptoms.

What is periodontal disease?

Lin describes his bewilderment when some patients who cleaned their teeth faithfully nevertheless suffered worsening gum disease. He began wondering if the cause went beyond just plaque build-up on teeth. The bottom line is this:

“Gum disease (periodontal disease) is a long-term chronic disease. It’s an inflammatory condition that often progresses without response to treatment. While small amounts of gum regeneration may be possible and surgical options are there, the broad answer is that it’s irreversible.”1

The term periodontium refers to two structures that comprise your gums: the cementum and the alveolar bone. Merriam-Webster2 describes the periodontal ligament (PDL) as the fibrous connective tissue layer that covers the cementum of a tooth and holds it in place in the jawbone. This is the area the disease attacks, and it occurs in stages:

  • Mild periodontitis — Gingivitis or bleeding gums
  • Moderate periodontitis — Loss of ligament attachment, pocketing or receding gums
  • Severe periodontitis — Alveolar bone loss and deep gum pocketing
  • Advanced periodontitis — Loose, mobile teeth and tooth loss

It’s clear that people who experience the first stages of gum disease are given fair warning when their gums begin bleeding, usually while brushing their teeth. Over time, perhaps a shorter time for some than others, the disease results in lost teeth.

Your gingiva is the part of your gum around the base of your teeth, which is why the first signs of gum disease, such as redness, inflammation and often pain, is called gingivitis. But what many don’t realize is that gum disease is inflammation-based, and vitamin K2 can make all the difference.

How K2 and vitamin D help your teeth, gums and more

More specifically, it signals a “loss of tolerance between your oral microbiome”3 and an unbalanced immune system. Bleeding gums are also connected to your vitamin D status. Vitamin K2 is a cofactor for vitamin D and calcium to support bone health, but it also helps reduce inflammation and the factors involved with gum disease by:

  • Decreasing the production of inflammatory markers
  • Regulating immune cells that cause inflammation
  • Decreasing fibroblast cells

Vitamin K2 and vitamin D (along with calcium and magnesium) have a synergistic relationship. Calcium strengthens your bones and enhances overall skeletal health, but only works when it gets to the right place. Vitamin K2 directs calcium into the bone and prevents it from being deposited along blood vessel walls. According to Lin, K2 mediates gum inflammation two ways:

“It decreases fibroblasts known to fuel the gum disease process. In the healing process, fibroblasts act to form scar tissue. But in gum disease, their action is harmful and could advance the calcification of periodontal ligament — an early sign of gum disease.

It activates Matrix GLA protein: This Vitamin K2 dependent protein has been shown to prevent the calcification of the periodontal ligament. Many studies have shown that Vitamin K2 has the same anti-calcification effects around the body, including in the heart, kidneys and prostate.”4

Matrix GLA protein, as explained in one study,5 is important because it inhibits calcification. To that end, there are other vital nutrients that work with K2 to promote oral health.

For example, human gingival fibroblasts (HGFs) are described in a Japanese study6 as the most abundant structural cell in periodontal tissue. Other research shows that HGFs may act as “accessory” immune cells7 that work to amplify immune responses to lipopolysaccharides,8 which are found in the outer membranes of infection-causing bacteria that cause inflammation and promote tissue destruction.

Another substance that quells inflammation is Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, which is produced in your body naturally. One study notes that CoQ10 “decreased oxidative DNA damage and tartrate-resistant acid-phosphatase-positive osteoclasts in the periodontal tissue”9 while suppressing inflammation.

The role vitamin K2 plays in your brain

Probably the most obvious way K2 makes such a difference in your oral health, then, is the way it works with vitamin D to help reduce all that inflammation and to regulate immune cells. In your brain, it may help prevent heart disease, cardiac embolism and stroke10 because matrix-GLA protein benefits both your brain and your heart.

Another way it expresses itself is through your central and peripheral nervous systems; it may even be an antioxidant in your brain, one study observes. Conversely, research shows how the drug warfarin can reduce vitamin K2 in your system:

“The relationship between vitamin K status and cognitive abilities needs to be further investigated. Notably, and despite the methodological challenges that such studies entail, it would be important to determine the long-term effect of warfarin therapy on cognitive abilities.

A potent anti-vitamin K agent, warfarin is widely prescribed for the prophylaxis and treatment of thromboembolic conditions … As individuals treated with warfarin are in a relative state of vitamin K deficiency, they could be at higher risk of cognitive problems based on the actions of vitamin K in the nervous system.”11

Vitamin K2, working with K1, seems to enhance the effects of glutathione to prevent nerve cell death as well as brain damage.12 K2 also may be significant in its role of preventing neurodegenerative damage by preventing both oxidative stress and brain inflammation.13

Lin notes that low vitamin K2 appears to negatively influence incidences of Alzheimer’s disease14 and, overall, either eating adequate K2 or taking it in supplement form is important for preventing degenerative disease and promoting optimal brain function.15

One of the effects of being vitamin K2 deficient is that it produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification of soft tissues that can lead to atherosclerosis.16

Osteocalcin — Crucial in healing gum disease

Lin says the first order of business in halting gum disease is calming the immune system, and at the first sign of bleeding gums, your vitamin K2 intake should increase. This is because your ability to repair damage from gum disease is dependent on the release of vitamin K2-activated proteins.

That’s where osteocalcin comes in. Osteocalcin17 is a protein hormone found in bone and dentin. Gum tissue releases it where there’s inflammation and gum disease, particularly in postmenopausal women.18 In fact, it’s crucial for your body’s ability to heal gum disease.

If you’re deficient in vitamin K2, your body may release osteocalcin, but it won’t be active. Osteocalcin also increases your insulin sensitivity,19 so Type 2 diabetes and advanced gum disease are both associated with this protein. According to Lin:

“Vitamin K2 has a critical role in bone loss in both gum disease and osteoporosis. Vitamin K2 inhibits bone loss through resorption by inducing osteoclast apoptosis. The severity of bone loss in gum disease is worse in the presence of osteoporosis.”20

Lin says that while further studies are needed, gum disease and vitamin K2 are linked because K2 is a central mediator in inflammation, immune regulation, matrix-GLA protein and osteocalcin. Anyone noticing bleeding gums or advanced stages of gum disease can consider taking vitamin K2 supplements, but also to begin eating more foods that will help supply it.

How to get more vitamin K2

Foods with significant amounts of vitamin K2 are rare, Lin adds, so you need to be intentional about it because you’re probably not eating enough. It’s important to know that how foods that contain K2 are treated and prepared because this makes a difference in the amount that is ultimately made available to your body.

With that in mind, Lin explains that if K2 is derived from animals, they must be pasture raised. Brie and Gouda cheese, for instance, are particularly high in K2, as is grass fed butter or ghee and organic, pastured eggs. Lin’s partial list of K2-rich meats21 include:

  • 2 to 2 oz. of pastured chicken, duck or goose liver pate
  • 6 to 12 oz. of pastured chicken legs or thigh meat
  • 2 to 3 slices of organic, grass fed beef or lamb liver

One reason you want to choose only pastured beef is because if cows are fed soy or grains, they won’t get K1, which means they won’t be able to convert it to K2. If cows eat “dead” hay that no longer has the proper nutrients, they may not produce K2-rich dairy products. In addition, Lin says:

“One dozen eggs a day from caged hens won’t supply enough K2 for your daily requirement, whereas two to four eggs a day from pasture-raised hens may provide adequate K2 … Fermented foods also provide a different form of vitamin K2, however it needs to be cultured properly and then stored in a refrigerator, not pasteurized or contaminated. Today we eat far less fermented food rich in Vitamin K2.”22

In the plant world, leafy greens are an excellent source of vitamin K1, and your choices come from more than just types of lettuce. They extend to turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens and, of course, spinach and kale.

Needless to say, though, organic greens are optimal choice, in light of information from the Environmental Working Group’s 2019 Dirty Dozen23 list: The plant-based foods with the heaviest toxic load from pesticide overspray include spinach and kale in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.

For vitamin K2, however,24nattokinase (natto), which is fermented soy, is one vegetarian source of vitamin K2. Fermentation removes the disadvantages associated with eating raw or cooked soy. Other good sources of K2 include vegetables fermented at home using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria.

If you think you may not be getting enough vitamin K2, besides eating grass fed raw dairy products, meat, eggs and fermented foods, supplementing is another option, but it should be menaquinone-7, or MK-7, a form of vitamin K2, which stays in your liver and helps support strong bones, but also helps reduce incidences of heart disease and cancer.25

I recommend getting around 150 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K2 per day, although others recommend slightly more, such as 180 to 200 mcg per day.

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Linking the DNA Damage Response and Calcification of Arteries

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Researchers here provide evidence for a specific mechanism that can link the oxidative stress of aging with calcification of tissues such as arteries. Calcification reduces elasticity, which in the case of blood vessels contributes to hypertension, but it can also cause serious functional issues in other tissues. Oxidative molecules are generated in increasing numbers in aged tissues, and where their presence outweighs the existing antioxidant defenses over the long term, disruption results. The deeper causes of this oxidative stress include chronic inflammation, such as that produced by senescent cells, and mitochondrial dysfunction. As the example here shows, the consequent disruptions produced by oxidative stress include maladaptive responses in the regulation of cellular behavior.


Biomineralization is the deposition of mineral particles within a proteinaceous organic matrix. In bone, this is an essential physiological process, but extensive pathological calcification of soft tissues, in particular the vasculature, commonly occurs in association with disease. Determining how this complex chemical process is controlled is relevant to both bone development and the treatment of detrimental conditions such as “hardening of the arteries.” Despite increased understanding of the cell biological processes involved in biomineralization, the chemical mechanism of mineral nucleation remains elusive.

Studies in vitro have shown that the formation of bone-like ordered mineral deposits around collagen fibrils requires other factors such as additional or substituting mineral ions or non-collagenous biomolecules. This implies that there is cellular control of extracellular matrix (ECM) calcification through the secretion of specific factors, but the identification of these factors remains elusive. In both bone and the vasculature, biomineralization is accompanied by osteogenic differentiation of resident osteoblasts and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), respectively. Osteogenic differentiation results in increased expression of multifunctional acidic proteins, including the small integrin-binding ligand, N-linked glycoprotein (SIBLING) proteins, and speculation has focused on these “osteogenic” proteins as specialist molecules that may selectively bind calcium ions and provide specificity of interaction with collagen fibrils, these proteins do not have the calcium concentration capacity to induce collagen calcification.

Previously we discovered that poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) is abundant in the calcifying growth plate of developing fetal bone, which led us to hypothesize that PAR may play a role in biomineralization. PAR is a post-translational modification moiety composed of sugar phosphates that is produced by PAR polymerase (PARP) enzymes and adducted to numerous cellular proteins in a process known as PARylation. Several characteristics of PAR lend support to its possible extracellular role in biomineralization: first, the pyrophosphate groups of PAR are predicted to locally bind calcium ions, potentially to the levels needed for mineral nucleation. Second, PARP1 and PARP2, the dominant PAR-producing enzymes, are expressed in response to DNA damage and oxidative stress, both etiologies associated with vascular calcification. Third, emerging evidence suggests that osteogenic differentiation in calcifying osteoblasts is regulated by PARP activity induced by hydrogen peroxide release from cells. Therefore, we explored whether PAR could control the physicochemical process of mineral formation in the ECM and provide evidence that PAR biosynthesis, induced in part by the cellular DNA damage response (DDR), is a unifying factor in physiological bone and pathological artery calcification.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2019.05.038

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Changing Macrophage Behavior to Improve Regeneration Following Heart Attack

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The innate immune cells known as macrophages play an important role in the coordination of regeneration, in addition to their tasks related to defense against pathogens and clearance of debris and molecular waste. Macrophages adopt different polarizations, or collections of behaviors, under different circumstances. Researchers are very interested in finding ways to force macrophages to adopt a desired polarization, such as to switch inflammatory, aggressive macrophages into a kinder, gentler pro-regeneration state. The research noted here is an example of those efforts, in that the scientists involved are attempting to make macrophages participate more readily in the regrowth of blood vessels following damage to the heart, such as that produced by a heart attack.


Despite the advent of new therapeutic strategies to restore blood flow, we are not yet able to prevent the onset of heart failure following myocardial infarction (MI). Hence, it is a major challenge to identify innovative strategies to restore nutrient supply to the infarcted myocardium, ultimately aimed at regeneration of myocardial functionality. The cellular response following MI is characterized by a rapid recruitment of neutrophils. Their arrival is superseded by the infiltration of classical monocytes, which contribute to clearance of debris. However, this subset also drives robust inflammation, leading to pathological remodeling. In contrast, the appearance of nonclassical monocytes and reparative macrophages marks a turning point between inflammation and its resolution, as these cells govern repair and angiogenesis. At this point, knowledge about mechanisms regulating this cellular switch and about origin and identity of molecular cues involved is scarce.

Annexin A1 (AnxA1) is quickly released upon cellular stress; it acts through Formyl peptide receptor-2 to prevent chemokine-mediated integrin activation, and thus, turns off inflammatory recruitment of myeloid cells. AnxA1 also activates pro-repair mechanisms by activation of Rac1 and NOX1, resulting in enhanced epithelial cell migration after injury. Local intestinal delivery of an AnxA1 fragment encapsulated within polymeric nanoparticles accelerated recovery following experimentally induced colitis. With its central position during the switch from inflammation to resolution, we hypothesized that AnxA1 may be an important cue linking initial myeloid cell recruitment to myocardial repair.

AnxA1 knockout mice showed a reduced cardiac functionality and an expansion of proinflammatory macrophages in the ischemic area. Cardiac macrophages from AnxA1 knockout mice exhibited a dramatically reduced ability to release the proangiogenic mediator vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A. However, AnxA1 treatment enhanced VEGF-A release from cardiac macrophages, and its delivery in vivo markedly improved cardiac performance. AnxA1 has a direct action on cardiac macrophage polarization toward a pro-angiogenic, reparative phenotype. AnxA1 stimulated cardiac macrophages to release high amounts of VEGF-A, thus inducing neovascularization and cardiac repair.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2019.03.503

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Discussing the DNA Damage Hallmark of Aging at Long Long Life

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The Long Long Life team will be putting together a set of videos in the months ahead, one for each of the Hallmarks of Aging. The first to be published covers the hallmark of DNA damage, stochastic mutational change to nuclear DNA that is widely thought to make a meaningful contribution to the dysregulation of cell behavior in aging. This is evidently the case for cancer risk, as cancer is caused by mutations that enable rampant, unregulated growth, but may only be important otherwise when mutations occur in stem cells or progenitor cells that are able to propagate the mutations widely in tissues.

The Hallmarks of Aging is a list of common processes and outcomes found in aging, and considered by a sizable fraction of the research community to cause aging. While the hallmarks overlap with the list of forms of cell and tissue damage described in the earlier Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), a view of aging as accumulated molecular damage, the two differ in that some of the hallmarks are clearly not fundamental causes of aging in the SENS view. They are some way downstream from the forms of molecular damage that would be considered true causes of aging. For example, the hallmarks include loss of proteostasis and dysregulation of nutrient sensing. Both of these are managed by collections of cell behaviors and states; we must ask what causes those behaviors and states to change, and the answer must be some form of underlying damage.

[Video] The 9 Hallmarks of Aging, episode 1, DNA damage


The first cause of aging that we will address are the damage to our DNA over time. DNA is the medium of information that makes us who we are, the manufacturing program of our body. This information is made up of genes and all genes are grouped together under the name “genome“. All this information must be transmitted from one cell to another when they divide to generate daughter cells. And for that, it is necessary to replicate the DNA integrally at each cellular division.

Unfortunately, even this very powerful replication system is not without errors. It has been noted that DNA errors accumulate in life, as many factors influence the stability of the genome. These factors are varied and can be external, such as smoking, sunlight, food … but also internal, such as replication errors: when your body has to copy the information contained in your DNA, it makes mistakes. These errors can either be repaired, cause cell death, or, and this is the problem, be transmitted to daughter cells.

Fortunately, we have repair systems. Some genes build proteins to repair replication errors, but sometimes the replication errors affect the genes that make these repair systems and, through a snowball effect, there is an exponential growth of problems within the cell. In mice and humans, it has been shown that there is a causal link between DNA damage accumulation and aging. In fact, when the cells in our body divide a large number of times and are carriers of genetic mutations, this causes a dysfunction of the cell that can cause problems at the level of the organ concerned.

Interestingly, it has been shown that during aging, repair systems (such as the PARP protein) become much more abundant in cells, suggesting that our body is aware of the deregulations that come with age and tries to take the necessary steps to fight them. The activity of these repair systems is however dependent on co-enzymes, small molecules that allow them to function. These are essential fuels for our cells whose concentration and recycling decreases with age. Among them, NAD+ is often mentioned, because it is essential to repair mechanisms, but also to mitochondrial health. When these molecules eventually run out, our repair systems no longer work well, leading to serious disruptions, not only in replication but also in other mechanisms, up to and including cell death.

Supplementing with NAD+ may be a good idea to boost our repair systems but it is also possible that cell suicide linked to NAD+ depletion is a protection of the body against cells that have become genetically diseased and that it would be preferable to eliminate. Researchers have used mice, which have been treated to keep a constant level of NAD+ throughout their lives. And not only the treated mice lived healthier lives but they also lived longer than the untreated mice. This shows that, in mice in any case, upregulating NAD+ seems to be a good idea to fight against aging. In humans, as usual, this remains to be proven.

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Dr. Weil on the development of integrative medicine in modern practice

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Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, is one of the true pioneers of this field, having advocated holistic approaches to health for about 50 years.

“I was always interested in science and biology,” Weil says, and “I have a lifelong interest in plants … that led me to be a botany major at Harvard as an undergraduate and started me on a career interest in medicinal plants.”

Fascinated by mind-body interactions, Weil began studying alternative medicine in college. After graduating medical school, he did a yearlong fellowship with the National Institutes of Health. He also did a fellowship with the Institute of Current World Affairs, which allowed him to travel around Latin America and Africa to collect information on medicinal plants and traditional healing.

“I chased around the world looking for healers and to see what I could learn because I felt that what I had learned in my conventional medical education wasn’t going to serve me. I saw the methods do too much harm, and I had learned nothing about keeping people healthy,” Weil says.

“The irony is that when I finished traveling and landed back in Tucson, it turned out the person who had most to teach me had been here all along. That was Dr. Robert Fulford. He was a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). He was then in his 80s and a master of cranial therapy.

He really made me aware of the healing power of nature. I am an enormous fan of osteopathic manipulation and cranial therapy. I recommend them a lot. I hope more D.O.s will go back to their roots and again practice manipulation …

After I finished my internship, I took a course at Columbia University on medical hypnosis — one of the most interesting courses I ever took. As a result of that, I also make frequent referrals to hypnotherapists. I have, again and again, seen how changes in the mental realm initiate healing and affect the physical body.

To me, that’s one of the great limitations of the dominant scientific and medical paradigm, which only looks at the physical as being real and believes that changes in the physical system must have physical causes to be physical. Nonphysical causation of physical events is not allowed for. Integrative medicine philosophy challenges that materialistic paradigm.”

The emergence of integrative medicine

It wasn’t until the 1990s that medical institutions began opening up to Weil’s methods. “I had a large following in the general public, but none of my medical colleagues paid any attention to me,” he says. In the ’90s, however, health care economics began faltering, forcing institutions to start listening to what patients really wanted.

At a fundamental level, integrative medicine is the solution to the desperate problems and complications of chronic degenerative disease experienced in the U.S. Conventional medicine is really ineffective when it comes to these issues. As for the best way to help conventional physicians embrace these strategies, Weil says:

“My focus has been on training physicians and allied health professionals through the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. We have a two-year intensive fellowship. We now have 1,800 graduates: highly physicians, nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants in practice in all states and in a number of other countries.

Many of them are now training other people. We also have a curriculum in integrative medicine in residency training that’s now been adopted by 70-some residency programs around the country (as well as in Canada, Germany and Taiwan).”

While 1,800 doctors are a drop in the bucket — a fraction of a percent of the 1.1 million physicians in the U.S.1 — they are important change agents.

“I think for things to change, there has to be a grassroots sociopolitical movement in this country, in which enough people get angry enough about the way things are,” Weil says. He hopes the growing numbers of health professionals trained in integrative medicine will catalyze that movement.

We also need to elect representatives who are not beholden to the vested interests that want the system to go on as it is. Those interests are blocking the implementation of more effective and less expensive strategies.

“We may have to have a total crash of the health care system for things to change,” Weil says. “To every graduating class of our fellows, I say, ‘You are the ones who could start this movement in the country.’ Doctors are victimized by the current system. They should be marching in the streets, demanding change.

As dysfunctional as our health care system is, it’s generating rivers of money. That money is flowing into very few pockets — the pockets of Big Pharma, the manufacturers of medical devices and the big insurers. Those vested interests have total control of our representatives …

I think doctors today are so unhappy. I hear many, many doctors say they wish they hadn’t gone into medicine. They’d never let a son or daughter of theirs go into medicine. I never heard anything like that when I was in college. Medicine looked like a very desirable profession. You could be your own boss. You were highly regarded in society.

All that has changed. Throughout history, much of the satisfaction of practicing medicine derived from the therapeutic connection with the patient, the getting to know someone. All that has evaporated in this era of for-profit, corporatized medicine. The time allowed for medical visits gets shorter and shorter.

The main obstacle is that our priorities of reimbursement are totally backward. We happily pay for drugs, for invasive procedures, for diagnostic testing. We don’t pay health professionals to sit with patients and talk to them about diet or teach them breathing exercises. That has to change.

Of course, we also need to have data to show to the people who pay for health care that integrative approaches using lifestyle modification and natural therapies save money and produce outcomes that are equal to or better than those of conventional medicine.”

Breathing basics

One of Weil’s health strategies is a simple breathing technique called “The 4-7-8 Breath.” “I teach that whenever I get the chance. I’ve done it with all my patients. I teach it to all our fellows. I do it with friends. I teach to all groups I speak to,” Weil says.

“It’s breathing in through your nose to a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7, blowing air out through your mouth to a count of 8, and doing this for four breath cycles at least twice day day. You have to practice it regularly. It is the master key to changing the activity of the involuntary nervous system,” he explains.

“Of all the remedies that I’ve given to patients over the years, the one that I’ve gotten the most positive feedback about is that simple technique. It costs nothing, uses no equipment, takes very little time. Medical doctors don’t take it seriously because they don’t believe that something so simple — something that does not involve a drug or device — can change anything in the body. For that reason, little research has been done on breath work.

I do the 4-7-8 breath at least twice a day — when I wake up and when I go to sleep — and any time during the day that I feel that I want to focus and relax. (I now do eight breath cycles at a time and don’t recommend any more than that.) One result that I’ve seen in myself: I have a very low heart rate. It’s usually in the low 40s, sometimes in the high-30s.

I exercise regularly, but I’m not fanatical. I swim and walk every day. But up until maybe 20 years ago, my heart rate was around 70. The only way I can explain the change is that it is a result of doing that breathing exercise regularly. It has increased my vagal tone, slowed my heart rate and kept my hands very warm most of the time. It’s the power of the relaxation response — one of the great rewards of doing this breathing practice.”

Aside from activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which increases your heart rate variability, proper breathing will help improve your digestion and blood circulation and lower high blood pressure.

Maintaining cognitive and physical health into your senior years

At 77, Weil is also a testament to the cognitive benefits of this and other holistic techniques. His mental acuity for someone in their late 70s is truly remarkable, and doesn’t seem to have changed since his youth. When asked what he attributes his general health to, he says:

“I get good rest and sleep. I use supplements wisely. I’m a great believer in the power of mushrooms. I take a number of mushroom products that I think are helpful both mentally and physically. I eat a lot of fermented foods. You know there’s increasing research on the connection between the microbiome and mental-emotional well-being.

I think that’s another strategy. And I drink matcha green tea every day. (I am so much a fan of it that I created a company — Matcha Kari — and got the URL matcha.com to bring high-quality matcha from Uji, Japan, to people in this country.

I spend time with people who are active and happy and positive and I think that’s a great strategy as well. I have two companion animals, two wonderful dogs that I spend a lot of time with. I attribute a lot of my well-being to living with them as well.”

Among Weil’s favorite medicinal mushrooms are turkey tail and lion’s mane. Turkey tail has a number of cancer-protective effects, both preventively and therapeutically, while lion’s mane contains a unique nerve-growth factor. “I recommend it to people with neuropathy,” Weil says. There’s also evidence suggesting lion’s mane can help improve cognitive function.

True food kitchen

Last year, I had the opportunity to try out the True Food Kitchen while at the Paleo f(x)™ conference in Austin, Texas — a restaurant chain Weil conceptualized. He explains:

“I’m a very good home cook. I’m not a chef. But over the years, many people have said, ‘You ought to open a restaurant.’ I was never tempted to do that because I know nothing about the restaurant business, and it looked like a very tough business.

But about 11 years ago, a mutual friend introduced me to a very successful restaurateur in Arizona, Sam Fox. I proposed the concept of a restaurant that would serve wonderful, delicious food that was also healthy. His immediate reaction was, “Health food doesn’t sell.”

I think he thought I meant tofu and sprouts. He regarded me as a hippie and didn’t see any possibilities for a collaboration. I invited him and his wife to my home. I cooked a meal for them. They liked the food. His wheels began to turn, and he said he would give it a try, but he was very skeptical that the concept would succeed.

We opened our first True Food Kitchen in Phoenix 11 years ago. It was a success right out of the gate. There are now 29 of them around the country. People love the food. We still don’t have any real competition. The menu is based on my anti-inflammatory diet, with something for everyone there.

You can go with a mixed group. There are meat entrees — although not many of them — wonderful produce and fish. Gluten-free people can get what they want, people who are vegans, paleo or keto can find what they want there. It’s been a great delight to see people liking the kinds of food I’ve enjoyed most of my life.”

We certainly need more restaurants like that, because eating too much processed food is one of the key challenges most people have. While you may not think of restaurant food as processed, a vast majority of it is.

Staying active is a key component of longevity and health

About 50% of 80-year-olds experience sarcopenia, loss of muscle mass. As noted by Weil, one of the key prevention strategies for sarcopenia is to stay active and use your muscles as much as possible. This is also why strength training is so highly recommended for seniors.

“I use my muscles a lot,” Weil says. “I am careful in what I do, but I go up and down stairs a lot when I get the chance. I lift things. I don’t feel that I’ve lost muscle strength. I certainly have more aches and pains than I did when I was younger, but I think my musculoskeletal system is in good shape …”

“It’s important to pay attention to how your body changes and how it reacts to different things … In my 20s, I ran for a time — until I got signals from my knees that they didn’t like that. I shifted to cycling and did that for a long time. And then I got into swimming, which agrees with me very much. I think it’s good to be flexible and open to change …”

Integrative medicine is the answer to many growing problems

Like me, Weil sees integrative medicine as the way of the future. “I’ve always said that one day we’ll be able to drop the word ‘integrative’ and it’ll be just ‘good medicine,'” he says. He believes this transition is inevitable, because the forces that are taking down our health care system continue to build.

This includes a growing population of seniors, uncontainable health care costs due to our dependence on expensive technologies and drugs, and growing epidemics of lifestyle-related disease that conventional medicine cannot successfully manage.

“This is happening all over the world, but it’s most advanced in the U.S.,” he says. “Our health care system is farther over the cliff. At the same time that we are paying more for health care than any other people in the world — now 18% of our GDP — we have worse health outcomes than any other developed nation. The World Health Organization ranks us 38th, on par with Serbia. Something is very wrong with that picture. It’s unsustainable.”

On cannabis

One positive change is the growing acceptance of medicinal marijuana and hemp, the latter of which was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill. While Weil no longer uses cannabis, he recounts his personal history with the plant during his 30s. He also conducted the first ever double-blind human experiments with cannabis, which were published in the journal Science in 1968.

“We’ve been very stupid in our relationship with that plant,” he says. “Cannabis sativa — the word ‘sativa’ means useful — is amazingly useful. It gives us a very high-quality oil and an edible seed, a medicine, an excellent fiber and an intoxicant. That’s a lot of ways for one plant to serve us.

We have let a multibillion-dollar industry in hemp textiles slip away to China, a multimillion-dollar industry in edible hemp products go to Canada. We have rejected cannabis as medicine for a long time. I’m very happy to see this change.

I regard cannabis as the plant world’s equivalent of the dog. Dogs long ago decided to co-evolve with us. Cannabis has done the same thing. We can’t unravel the ancient history of cannabis, because as far back as we can look, it’s always been associated with human settlements and human activity.

It wants to do nothing other than to serve us. It lets us manipulate its genome. It just wants to help us and we have turned it away. It’s nice to see that change.”

Psychedelics may have a place in medicine

Weil also believes there’s a place for psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms. “The great magic and potential of psychedelics is that they can show you possibilities that you otherwise would not have believed,” he says. However, once you’ve touched on these new possibilities, he says you need to find other, nondrug ways to re-experience or maintain them.

“If you try to use the drugs as the sole method of having them, they fail you,” he warns. “The example I have written and talked about [is] when I was about 28, I wanted to learn to practice hatha yoga. I worked with a number of postures.

The one I had the most difficulty with was the plow — where you lie on your back and try to touch your toes on the floor behind your head. I worked at this for a long time and I got my toes to within a foot of the floor but no further, because I would have excruciating pain in my neck. No matter how I persisted, I couldn’t make further progress.

One spring day, I took a dose of LSD with friends in a beautiful outdoor setting. I felt terrific. My body was completely elastic and flexible, and I thought I ought to try that yoga pose. I lay down, got my feet over my head and lowered them. I thought I had about a foot to go and they touched the ground. I couldn’t believe it. I raised and lowered them. It was a source of such delight.

The next day I tried to do it and I got my toes within a foot of the floor and had a horrible pain in my neck. But now there was a difference. I had seen that it was possible. I was motivated to keep at it and, in a few weeks, I was able to do it. If I had not had that experience, I don’t think I would have kept up the practice. To me, that’s a model of how these drugs work. They can show you possibilities.

I think they have tremendous potential in medicine. Everyone looks at their use in psychotherapy, and that’s fine, but I think they have a tremendous potential to change how people experience their bodies. For people who have chronic diseases, a structured psychedelic session can show them that it’s possible to be without pain or other symptoms. And that can motivate them to figure out how to maintain the improvement in other ways.”

More information

While Weil says he’s done writing books, he’s in the process of writing a collection of stories from his life. The University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, which he still heads up, is also entering a new phase of growth.

“The university has made a solid commitment to make integrative medicine a top priority,” he says. We will get a dedicated building on campus and will open the first integrative medicine primary care clinic in Tucson early next year.

You can find more information about this on the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine website. There, you can also sign up for online courses to explore topics such as nutrition, integrative pain management, cardiovascular health management and more. There’s also a research section you can peruse to learn more about the benefits of integrative medicine.

“We think we have a model that is replicable, sustainable, profitable that can be eventually replicated throughout the health care system here and elsewhere. We’re expanding our teaching programs. We have a very strong research initiative as well.

This is all very exciting — something I’ve waited for, for a long time … I think the future is going to be very bright for our field. Medicine doesn’t change as a result of intellectual argument. It changes as a result of economic necessity. And time is on our side.

Our health care system is in deep, deep trouble. The wisdom of what [Dr. Mercola] and I have been advocating for so long will become more and more apparent as the health care crisis deepens.”

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Fight Aging! Newsletter, June 17th 2019

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Fight Aging! provides a weekly digest of news and commentary for thousands of subscribers interested in the latest longevity science: progress towards the medical control of aging in order to prevent age-related frailty, suffering, and disease, as well as improvements in the present understanding of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to extending healthy life. Expect to see summaries of recent advances in medical research, news from the scientific community, advocacy and fundraising initiatives to help speed work on the repair and reversal of aging, links to online resources, and much more.

This content is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You are encouraged to republish and rewrite it in any way you see fit, the only requirements being that you provide attribution and a link to Fight Aging!

To subscribe or unsubscribe please visit: https://www.fightaging.org/newsletter/

Contents

  • Progerin Acts in Normal Aging as well as Progeria, but is it Important?
  • Lymph Node Organoids Integrate into the Lymphatic System and Restore Function
  • Understanding Why the Immune System Fails to Destroy Lingering Senescent Cells May Lead to New Senolytic Therapies
  • Declining Microcirculation as an Important Aspect of Aging
  • Cellular Senescence as a Program of the Innate Immune System
  • Blocking Translation of α-synuclein RNA to Treat Parkinson’s Disease
  • Reviewing the Biochemistry of Survival in Senescent Cells
  • Mast Cells in Age-Related Neurodegeneration and Neuroinflammation
  • A Natural Mechanism that Breaks Down α-Synuclein Aggregates
  • Extremely Long Lived Cells are Found in Many Tissues, Not Just the Brain
  • Cellular Antioxidant Defenses Measured in Blood Samples Decline with Age
  • Towards Bioprinted Corneas
  • The Contribution of Reactive Astrocytes to Neurodegeneration
  • People Remain Hopeful that Something Useful can be Accomplished with Minoxidil
  • Talking with Laura Deming: Aging is the World’s Most Important Problem

Progerin Acts in Normal Aging as well as Progeria, but is it Important?

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/progerin-acts-in-normal-aging-as-well-as-progeria-but-is-it-important/

Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, or just progeria, results from the production of a broken protein progerin from the Lamin A gene. The functional form of Lamin A is vital to the structure of cells, and without it cellular damage and tissue dysfunction rapidly accrue. This results in a short lifespan with a superficial resemblance to accelerated aging. It is not accelerated aging, however: aging is a specific mix of forms of cell tissue damage and consequent dysfunction, and progeria is a radically different mix. Where there are similar outcomes, it is because some tissues will tend to fail in similar ways regardless of the specific cause of underlying cellular dysfunction.

While progeria results from the rare occurrence of mutation in the Lamin A gene, in recent years the presence of progerin at low levels has been observed in old individuals undergoing normal aging. This appears to be associated with cellular senescence, with progerin production being, for reasons yet to be fully understood, a feature of senescent cells. Even in very late life only a small fraction of cells in any given tissue are senescent, accounting for the overall low level of progerin, but senescent cells inflict an outsized level of harm on tissue function via a potent inflammatory mix of secreted proteins.

When we ask whether progerin is important in natural aging, this may just boil down to whether or not it is doing anything beyond participating in some way in the biochemistry of senescent cells. If it is just another portion of the internal mechanisms of cellular senescence, then it will not be necessary to tackle it as a distinct mechanism. The dominant approach to senescent cells in aged tissue is to selectively destroy them: no more senescent cells, no more progerin. Alternatively, are normal cells in aged tissues falling into a state in which they produce enough progerin in order to become senescent? Even in this case we may still be able to ignore this mechanism for practical purposes, given efficient enough senolytic treatments to clear out senescent cells every so often.

Are There Common Mechanisms Between the Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome and Natural Aging?


The Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS) is a premature aging disease caused by mutations of the LMNA gene leading to increased production of a partially processed form of the protein lamin A – progerin. Progerin acts as a dominant factor that leads to multiple morphological anomalies of cell nuclei and disturbances in heterochromatin organization, mitosis, DNA replication and repair, and gene transcription.

Progerin-positive cells are present in primary fibroblast cultures obtained from the skin of normal donors at advanced ages. These cells display HGPS-like defects in nuclear morphology, decreased H3K9me3 and HP1, and increased histone H2AX phosphorylation marks of the DNA damage loci. Inhibition of progerin production in cells of aged non-HGPS donors in vivo increases the proliferative activity, H3K9me3, and HP1, and decreases the senescence markers p21, IGFBP3, and GADD45B to the levels of young donor cells. Thus, progerin-dependent mechanisms act in natural aging. Excessive activity of the same mechanisms may well be the cause of premature aging in HGPS.

Telomere attrition is widely regarded to be one of the primary hallmarks of aging. Progerin expression in normal human fibroblasts accelerates the loss of telomeres. Changes in lamina organization may directly affect telomere attrition resulting in accelerated replicative senescence and progeroid phenotypes. The chronological aging in normal individuals and the premature aging in HGPS patients are mediated by similar changes in the activity of signaling pathways, including downregulation of DNA repair and chromatin organization, and upregulation of ERK, mTOR, GH-IGF1, MAPK, TGFβ, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Multiple epigenetic changes are common to premature aging in HGPS and natural aging. Recent studies showed that epigenetic systems could play an active role as drivers of both forms of aging. It may be suggested that these systems translate the effects of various internal and external factors into universal molecular hallmarks, largely common between natural and accelerated forms of aging.

Drugs acting at both natural aging and HGPS are likely to exist. For example, vitamin D3 reduces the progerin production and alleviates most HGPS features, and also slows down epigenetic aging in overweight and obese non-HGPS individuals with suboptimal vitamin D status.

Lymph Node Organoids Integrate into the Lymphatic System and Restore Function

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/lymph-node-organoids-integrate-into-the-lymphatic-system-and-restore-function/

The lymphatic system is vital to the correct operation of the immune response: lymph nodes are where immune cells communicate with one another in order to direct the response to invading pathogens and other threats. Unfortunately lymph nodes deteriorate with age, becoming inflammatory and fibrotic, no longer able to host the necessary passage and communication of immune cells. Researchers have demonstrated that, at least in late life, this can prevent improvements elsewhere in the aged immune system from producing the expected benefits in the immune response. What use extra immune cells or better immune cells if those cells cannot coordinate correctly? There are signs that lymph node degeneration may be due in part to the presence of senescent cells, in which case we might hope that senolytic therapies will help, but this has yet to be assessed by the research community.

What if new lymph nodes can be provided, however? Today’s open access paper is a report on the generation and transplantation of organoids capable of functioning as lymph nodes. In mice, transplanted organoids can integrate with the lymphatic system and begin to perform the duties of lymph nodes. While these were not aged mice, and the transplanted organoids replaced lymph nodes that had been surgically removed, rather than augmenting those damaged by aging, this is still promising. This line of research could become one of the suite of approaches that will needed to restore the immune system of an older individual to full, youthful function.

The other necessary therapies for immune rejuvenation are: regrowth of the thymus, responsible for maturation of T cells of the adaptive immune system, and which atrophies with age; rejuvenation of the hematopoietic stem cell population in the bone marrow, source of all immune cells, and damaged and diminished in older individuals; and clearance of the senescent, exhausted, misconfigured, and otherwise broken or inappropriate immune cells that come to clutter up the immune system in late life. A few different approaches for each of these line items are at various stages of development. Given a the timescale of a decade or two we should be optimistic that the effects of aging on the immune system can be significantly reversed.

Therapeutic Regeneration of Lymphatic and Immune Cell Functions upon Lympho-organoid Transplantation


Lymph node (LN) development is a multistep process involving crosstalk of multiple cell types and culminating in integration of LNs into the lymphatic system. Non-hematopoietic stromal progenitors of lymphoid organs play critical roles in tissue development, organization, and function through the secretion of cytokines, chemokines, and the extracellular matrix (ECM), a tri-dimensional scaffold that provides structural support and anchorage for cells. Afferent-collecting lymphatics transport lymph and antigens to the LN where immune responses are generated. However, surgical resection of LNs, radiation therapy, or infections may damage the lymphatic vasculature and contribute to secondary lymphedema, a chronic disease characterized by excessive tissue swelling, fibrosis, and decreased immune responses.

Currently available lymphedema treatments are limited to manual lymph drainage and compression garments, and definitive therapeutic options are still lacking. Vascularized autologous lymph node transfer (ALNT), a surgical procedure in which a LN flap is harvested and transplanted at the site of resected LNs to improve lymphatic drainage, is emerging as a therapeutic option for the treatment of cancer-associated lymphedema. Although feasible, such an approach requires surgical intervention and can be associated with donor-site complications, which may limit its application.

To circumvent these problems, tissue engineering may provide strategies to develop artificial lymphoid tissues for applications in regenerative medicine. It has been demonstrated that transplantation under the kidney capsule of an engineered stromal cell line expressing lymphotoxin α in a biocompatible scaffold or the delivery of stromal-derived chemokines in hydrogel is sufficient to promote the organization of lymphoid-like structures with immunological function. Whether these approaches contribute to regenerate immune and lymphatic functions in preclinical models of LN resection remains unknown.

Here, we generated lympho-organoids (LOs) using LN stromal progenitors in an ECM-based scaffold and show that LO transplantation at the site of resected LN contributes to restoration of lymphatic and immune functions. Upon transplantation, LOs are integrated into the endogenous lymphatic vasculature and efficiently restore lymphatic drainage and perfusion. Notably, upon immunization, LOs support the activation of antigen-specific immune responses and acquire properties of native lymphoid tissues. These findings provide a robust preclinical approach for the development of synthetic LOs capable of regenerating lymphatic and immune functions.

Understanding Why the Immune System Fails to Destroy Lingering Senescent Cells May Lead to New Senolytic Therapies

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/understanding-why-the-immune-system-fails-to-destroy-lingering-senescent-cells-may-lead-to-new-senolytic-therapies/

The accumulation of lingering senescent cells in all tissues is one of the causes of aging. Even in very late life, senescent cells are thought to account for only a few percent at most of all cells in any given tissue, but they cause great disruption to tissue structure and function: chronic inflammation, impaired regeneration, fibrosis, and other unpleasant outcomes. This is accomplished via an as yet incompletely cataloged mix of secreted molecules known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype, or SASP. Acting via secretions allows a small number of cells to have large effects.

When present for a limited period of time, senescent cells are helpful, a necessary part of wound healing, embryonic development, and suppression of cancer. Cells become senescent in response to the circumstance, the SASP assists in calling in the immune system to help, or in spurring growth, or in instructing nearby cells to also become senescent. Then the senescent cells self-destruct or are destroyed by the immune system once their contribution to the task at hand is complete. It is only when senescent cells linger for the long term that the SASP becomes dangerous, corrosive to tissue function.

Why do some senescent cells fail to self-destruct? Further, while we know that the immune system declines with age, becoming less effective in all of its tasks, why specifically do immune cells fail to identify and destroy some senescent cells? Progress towards more complete and detailed answers these questions may open the door to new classes of senolytic therapy, capable of purging senescent cells from old tissues. While a variety of senolytic treatments are either available or under development, none are capable of destroying more than about half at best of these cells, and then only in some tissues. Combinations of different therapies, and more efficient therapies will be needed in the years ahead.

Senescent cells evade immune clearance via HLA-E-mediated NK and CD8+ T cell inhibition


Cellular senescence is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism with beneficial effects on tumour suppression, wound healing and tissue regeneration. During ageing, however, senescent cells accumulate in tissues and manifest deleterious effects, as they secrete numerous pro-inflammatory mediators as part of a senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). The elimination of senescent cells in mouse models was shown sufficient to delay the onset or severity of several age-related phenotypes. This has prompted the development of senolytic drugs that selectively target senescent cells. Despite successful reversal of age-related pathologies in animal models, the use of senolytic drugs in humans may be hampered by their lack of specificity for senescent cells, leading to the risk of toxicity. Therefore, alternative approaches that can be used in isolation or in combination with senolytic drugs to improve the elimination of senescent cells in humans should be explored.

Senescent cells can be recognised and eliminated by the immune system. Different immune cell types including macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer (NK) cells and CD4+ T cells have been implicated in the surveillance of senescent cells, depending on the pathophysiological contex. Senescent cells become immunogenic by expressing stimulatory ligands like MICA/MICB that bind to NKG2D and activate their killing by NK cells. Moreover, by secreting chemokines and cytokines, senescent cells can recruit immune cells into tissues that enable senescent cell clearance. However, this secretory process may perpetuate a low-level chronic inflammatory state that underlies many age-related diseases.

Despite the evidence for senescent cell clearance by the immune system, it is not yet clear why senescent cells accumulate during ageing and persist at sites of age-related pathologies. A decline in immune function may contribute to incomplete elimination of senescent cells with age. Ageing has a great impact in both innate and adaptive immune systems, a process known as immunosenescence. Alternatively, changes in major histocompatibility complex (MHC) expression can lead to escape from recognition by the immune system as previously described in cancer and virally infected cells in vivo. Nevertheless, the effects of senescence on MHC expression are not fully understood.

Here, we show that senescent primary human dermal fibroblasts express increased levels of the non-classical MHC-class Ib molecule HLA-E. HLA-E inhibits immune responses against senescent cells by interacting with the inhibitory receptor NKG2A expressed on NK and highly differentiated CD8+ T cells. Accordingly, we find an increased frequency of HLA-E expressing senescent cells in the skin of old compared with young subjects. HLA-E expression is induced by SASP-related pro-inflammatory cytokines, in particular IL-6 and regulated by p38 signalling in vitro. Lastly, we show that that blocking HLA-E/NKG2A interactions in cell culture enhances NK and CD8+ T cell-mediated cytotoxicity against senescent cells. Taken together, these findings suggest that HLA-E expression contributes to the persistence of senescent cells in tissues. HLA-E may therefore represent a novel target for the therapeutic elimination of senescent cells in age-related diseases.

Declining Microcirculation as an Important Aspect of Aging

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/declining-microcirculation-as-an-important-aspect-of-aging/

Tissues are supported by dense and intricate networks of capillaries, hundreds passing through any square millimeter cross-section. Many studies have shown that capillary density decreases with age, which is perhaps another of the many results of faltering tissue maintenance due to the decline in stem cell activity, or alternatively, a specific dysregulation of the processes of angiogenesis at the small scale, resulting from inappropriate cellular reactions to rising levels of damage and chronic inflammation. Fewer capillaries means a lesser delivery of nutrients and oxygen, and we might well wonder to what degree this contributes to atrophy and dysfunction in energy hungry tissues such as muscles and the brain.

In this context, consider of the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging, known as sarcopenia. While sarcopenia is associated with a long, long list of potential contributing mechanisms, arguably the best evidence suggests that this loss of muscle capacity is caused by the declining activity of muscle stem cell populations. This connects well with a decline in capillary density, in that we can theorize either side as cause or consequence of the other. Another possible contributing factor is age-related mitochondrial dysfunction. Given that mitochondria are the power plants of the cell, responsible for transforming energy from nutrients into a form that cells can use, here too the possible connections to declining capillary density are obvious.

The two different approaches to this challenge are quite different. On the one hand, the first and more mainstream approach would be to attempt to override changes in the regulation of angiogenesis, forcing different expression levels in various regulatory proteins in order to generate greater generation of blood vessels. This strategy can produce benefits, but because it fails to address the underlying causes, the benefits are necessarily limited. The damage of aging marches on, causing all of its other consequences. One might look at past efforts to control raised blood pressure or chronic inflammation to see the plausible beneficial outcomes that can emerge from tackling important facets of aging in ways that do not repair the causes. The second, and as yet less popular – but better! – approach is to repair the damage that causes aging, and thus remove the dysregulation in angiogenesis and tissue maintenance that way. Sadly, this path forward is nowhere near as popular and well funded as it should be.

A Microcirculatory Theory of Aging


The term “microcirculation” in contrast with macrocirculation (which is the flow of blood to and from organs), refers to a network of terminal vessels comprising arterioles, capillaries and venules that are less than 100 μm in diameter. In other words, the microcirculation is defined as the blood flow through the smallest vessels in the vasculature and are embedded within organs and tissues, which facilitate the exchange of biological material between the blood and tissue via its large surface area and low blood velocity in these regions. For organs to function well, there must be sufficient perfusion throughout the tissue in the form of intact and appropriate microcirculatory vascularization.

There is a substantial number of studies presenting strong evidence of decreased vessel density with age, indicating an age-associated failure of vascular recovery in organs such as the brain in animals and humans alike. In studies involving aged rodents: healthy senescent rats (29 months) experienced a loss of about 40% of arteriolar density on the cortical surface compared with young adult rats (13 months). In the hippocampus of aged rats, there was a 20% decrease in capillary number, 3% decrease in capillary length, and 24% increase in intercapillary distance. Comparable reductions could also be found in other brain regions including the brain stem, cortex, and white matter. In studies involving aged humans: Capillary density decreased by 16% in the calcarine cortex while vascular density decreased by 50% in the paraventricular nucleus, frontal cortex, and putamen. Importantly, angiogenesis has been found to be impaired in aged tissues, which could contribute to the significant decreases in vascular density and number that has been reported.

Factors of vascular aging are reported to be closely associated with chronological age. Indeed, alterations in vascular mechanics and structure are related with vascular aging, resulting in less elastic arteries and diminished arterial compliance. Furthermore, the increased diffusion distance for oxygen caused by reduced capillary numbers and density, gives rise to heterogeneous perfusion, where the close proximity of perfused capillaries and non-perfused capillaries triggers alterations to oxygen extraction even when blood flow to the tissue is conserved.

Under normal physiological conditions, the microcirculatory blood flow is adapted to the metabolic levels of human tissues and organs, so the physiological functions of various organs in the human body can function as they should. Once the microcirculation of the human body is impaired, cells would not be able to get enough nutrition and oxygen, and meanwhile, CO2 and metabolic products, including those that are toxic, cannot be removed and will accumulate. Consequently, deterioration of physiological functions of cells and then organs that are necessary for survival and reproduction will occur. Microcirculatory impairment arises in adulthood and becomes progressively impaired with aging; the corresponding tissue system or internal organs are affected and unable to function normally, which eventually lead to aging. Therefore, aging is the process of continuous impairment of microcirculation in the body.

Cellular Senescence as a Program of the Innate Immune System

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/cellular-senescence-as-a-program-of-the-innate-immune-system/

The authors of today’s open access research offer an interesting viewpoint on cellular senescence in the context of cancer, presenting it as an aspect of the innate immune response to the signs of cancer-inducing mutational damage, or to the signs of cancer suppression programs operating in cells. The objective of the body’s numerous, layered defenses against cancer is to destroy all cells that show the signs of becoming cancerous. The first line of defense is the state of cellular senescence, in which cells shut down their ability to replicate, prime themselves to self-destruct via the programmed cell death path of apoptosis, and alert the immune system via a mix of inflammatory secretions known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). These secretions also raise the odds of other surrounding cells becoming senescent, which in theory helps to stay ahead of the replication of an early cancer.

Cellular senescence in this context of cancer is likely an adaptation of an existing tool. Transient cellular senescence occurs during embryonic growth and wound healing, a way to help guide structure and regeneration. That it can also help to shut down early stage cancer has the look of a later development. Unfortunately cellular senescence is an imperfect tool: senescent cells are not reliably removed by the immune system, and they do not reliably self-destruct. Some tiny fraction linger, and their continued inflammatory secretions are an important contributing cause of aging and age-related disease.

In recent years, the research community has found ways to selectively destroy a fraction of the senescent cells present in old tissues. This approach to the treatment of aging reliably extends life span and reverses numerous age-related diseases in mice. Numerous companies are working on ways to destroy senescent cells, and the first therapies are entering human trials. Meanwhile, ever more funding is flowing towards fundamental research into the biochemistry of senescence, as there are likely many more potential approaches to the destruction or management of senescent cells yet to be discovered. This point is illustrated well in the open access paper here, as the authors propose a new point of intervention based on their research.

The innate immune sensor Toll-like receptor 2 controls the senescence-associated secretory phenotype


We describe here an essential innate immune signaling pathway in oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) established between TLR2 and acute-phase serum amyloid A1 and serum amyloid A2 (A-SAAs) that initiates the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) and reinforce cellular senescence in vitro and in vivo. We also identify new important SASP components, A-SAAs, which are the senescence-associated damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) sensed by TLR2 after oncogenic stress. Therefore, we are reporting that innate immune sensing is critical in senescence. We propose that cellular senescence shares mechanistic features with the activation of innate immune cells and could be considered a program of the innate immune response by which somatic cells switch their regular role to acquire an immune function under certain conditions of stress and danger, for instance, upon oncogene activation.

Besides revealing a role for TLR2 in SASP induction and cell cycle regulation, we identified the DAMP that activates TLR2 in OIS. Acute-phase proteins SAA1 and SAA2 act to prime the TLR2-mediated inflammasome, and in turn, their full induction depends on TLR2 function. Hence, they establish a foundational feedback loop that controls the SASP. A-SAAs are systemically produced in the liver and released into the bloodstream during an acute inflammatory response. Our identification of these molecules as mediators of senescence suggests that systemic elevation of A-SAAs might have an impact on the accumulation of senescent cells and the activation of their proinflammatory program at the organismal level.

We found activation of TLR2 expression in parallel to A-SAAs in models of OIS in mice, in inflammation-induced senescence, in aging, and in different in vitro systems of senescence. Also, we have shown that TLR2 controls the activation of the SASP and OIS in vivo. Moreover, we have observed a dose-dependent effect for TLR2 in A-SAA sensing and a role for TLR2 in SASP activation during paracrine senescence. Together, these data suggest that systemic A-SAA elevation during acute inflammation could affect cells expressing TLR2, thereby promoting aging and other pathological roles of senescence. Further investigation may reveal additional physiological circumstances under which senescence is induced or reinforced by the interaction of TLR2 with A-SAAs or indeed with other endogenous DAMPs or exogenous pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) from the microbiome. These circumstances could have implications for organismal well-being, in particular, the development of aging and cancer.

In recent years, several strategies have been implemented to eliminate senescent cells or to modulate the activation of the SASP in anti-aging and cancer therapies (senotherapies). For example, genetic targeting for the elimination of senescent cells can delay organismal aging and aging-associated disorders. Furthermore, the pharmacological suppression of the SASP has been shown to improve homeostasis in tissue damage and aging. However, most of these manipulations are directed to essential homeostatic regulators such as mTOR or crucial proinflammatory mediators such as IL-1 signaling. Here, we propose the alternative of manipulating A-SAA-TLR2 as a new rationale for senotherapies aiming to manipulate nonessential and senescence-specific signaling pathways.

Blocking Translation of α-synuclein RNA to Treat Parkinson’s Disease

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/blocking-translation-of-%ce%b1-synuclein-rna-to-treat-parkinsons-disease/

Parkinson’s disease is a synucleinopathy, meaning that its pathology, the damage done to the brain, is driven at least in part by the aggregation of α-synuclein. Effective means to clear out α-synuclein and other protein aggregates from the aging brain, such as those resulting from amyloid-β and tau, are likely to form the basis of the first truly effective treatments for a range of neurodegenerative conditions. Though, as the Alzheimer’s research community has demonstrated over the past twenty years, this is easier said than done. Little more than vast expense and failed human trials have thus far resulted from the development of immunotherapies to target the removal of amyloid-β. Success is elusive in that part of the field. Now, however, the research community is diversifying its efforts, with many groups seeking radically different approaches to the challenge of protein aggregation. Some will eventually succeed.


The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is still a mystery, but researchers believe that both genetics and the environment are likely to play a part. Importantly though, all PD patients show a loss of dopaminergic neurons in the brain and increased levels of a protein called α-synuclein, which accumulates in Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are a pathological feature of the disease, as well as some types of dementia.

In a study published this month, researchers focused on α-synuclein as a target for a novel PD treatment. “Although there are drugs that treat the symptoms associated with PD, there is no fundamental treatment to control the onset and progression of the disease. Therefore, we looked at ways to prevent the expression of α-synuclein and effectively eliminate the physiological cause of PD.”

To do this, the researchers designed short fragments of DNA that are mirror images of sections of the α-synuclein gene product. The constructs were stabilized by the addition of amido-bridging. The resulting fragments, called amido-bridged nucleic acid-modified antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs), bind to their matching mRNA sequence, preventing it from being translated into protein. After screening 50 different ASOs, the researchers settled on a 15-nucleotide sequence that decreased α-synuclein mRNA levels by 81%. “When we tested the ASO in a mouse model of PD, we found that it was delivered to the brain without the need for chemical carriers. Further testing showed that the ASO effectively decreased α-synuclein production in the mice and significantly reduced the severity of disease symptoms within 27 days of administration.”

Reviewing the Biochemistry of Survival in Senescent Cells

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/reviewing-the-biochemistry-of-survival-in-senescent-cells/

Now that senescent cells are conclusively demonstrated to be highly influential in the progression of degenerative aging, and broad reversal of aspects of aging is regularly demonstrated in mice via the use of various senolytic therapies, there is considerably more interest and funding in the research community for investigations of the fundamental biochemistry of senescent cells. Senescent cells are generated constantly in all tissues, and are primed for self-destruction via apoptosis. The vast majority either self-destruct or are destroyed by the immune system, quite soon after their creation. Those that linger in tissues to cause aging and age-related disease are in some way resistant to apoptosis, and the mechanisms involved in that resistance are of great relevance to the development of future senolytic therapies, treatments capable of selectively destroying senescent cells.


Increasing evidence suggests that senescent cells are primed to apoptosis due to unresolved chronic stresses, and this might favor the efficacy of known senolytic drugs. In oncology, two-step therapeutic strategies aim to first induce cancer cells into senescence via cytotoxic drugs and then to exploit the vulnerability of senescent cancer cells to apoptosis by using senolytics. However, given the deleterious roles of senescent cells, and the negative systemic side effects associated to chemotherapy, these strategies should be best approached with caution. Recently, the use of genetic screens and compound libraries has yielded aurora kinase inhibitors as powerful inducers of senescence in cancer cells (independent of p53). Importantly, senescent cancer cells also acquired vulnerability to the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 inhibitor ABT-263 regardless of how senescence was induced. Further research is needed to assess the effects of aurora kinase inhibition in normal cells, as opposed to chemotherapy, in combination with senolytic drugs.

Redundant mechanisms aid cell death prevention in both senescent and cancer cells, as observed with anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family homologs. Nevertheless, as senescent cells may rely more on anti-apoptotic players compared to normal cells that are free of intracellular stressors, targeting anti-apoptotic players may still represent a viable therapeutic strategy. Moreover, different apoptotic mechanisms exist across different cell types and senescent programs, and these differences may be exploited to allow preferential elimination of a specific subtype of senescent cells. In this respect, targeting a defined senescent subtype that is relevant to a specific pathology may be more desirable and with less side effects than simultaneously targeting all types of senescent cells.

It is important to note that senescent cells rely on multiple levels of regulation in order to achieve apoptosis resistance. The concurrent targeting of multiple and indirectly related anti-apoptotic pathways (SCAPs) may therefore result in increased sensitivity of senescent cells without incurring in toxicities for normal proliferating or quiescent cells. A combinatorial approach to senescent cell clearance is exemplified by the concomitant treatment of dasatinib and quercetin. Targeting SCAP networks, as opposed to single targets, may enable lowering the therapeutic dosage of each drug, therefore decreasing off- and on-target side effects associated to single drugs.

Despite an increased resistance to certain apoptotic stimuli, senescent cells may be more susceptible to various forms of metabolic targeting. Senescent cell hypercatabolism can be pharmacologically exploited for the elimination of senescent cells by means of synthetic lethal approaches such as glycolysis inhibition, autophagy inhibition, and mitochondrial targeting. Synthetic lethal metabolic targeting could therefore be used alone or in combination with SCAP inhibitors for increased selectivity.

Finally, additional strategies alternative to apoptosis induction may be employed to alleviate the deleterious phenotypes associated to senescent cells. For instance, the use of SASP modulators may prevent the establishment of a chronic SASP and dampen the negative side-effects of senescent cell persistence without the need for their removal from tissues. Similarly, the use of selective inhibitors for specific SASP components, such as neutralizing antibodies, may allow a tailoring of the SASP by only targeting SASP components thought to play a negative role in the tissue micro-environment while preserving the beneficial ones. Lastly, enhancing the natural clearance of senescent cells by the immune system could be another way of overcoming apoptosis resistance. The use of immune modulators or artificially increasing the number of immune effector cells may effectively restore senescence surveillance, and decrease the senescent cell burden.

Mast Cells in Age-Related Neurodegeneration and Neuroinflammation

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/mast-cells-in-age-related-neurodegeneration-and-neuroinflammation/

Of late, it is becoming clear that the dysfunction of immune cells of the central nervous system, such as microglia, is an important part of neurodegeneration. Growing degrees of cellular senescence in these cell populations, leading to inflammatory signaling, appears to be significant in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, for example. There are many distinct types of supporting cell in the brain, however. This short open access review paper discusses the evidence for dysfunction of the immune cells known as mast cells to be relevant to the progression of chronic inflammation and neurodegeneration in the aging brain.


Mast cells are “first responders” that become activated with exposure to a diverse array of stimuli, from allergens and antigens to neuropeptides, trauma, and drugs. Activated mast cells are multifunctional effector cells that exert a variety of both immediate and delayed actions.

Neuroinflammation, which is now recognized as a primary pathological component of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, is gaining acceptance as an underlying component of most, if not all, neurodegenerative diseases. Whereas past focus has predominantly centered on glial cells of the central nervous system, recently mast cells have emerged as potential key players in both neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative diseases. Mast cells are well positioned for such a role owing to their ability to affect both their microenvironment and neighboring cells including T cells, astrocytes, microglia, and neurons. The secretory granules of mast cells contain an arsenal of preformed/stored immunomodulators, neuromodulators, proteases, amines, and growth factors that enable complex cross-communication, which can be both unidirectional and bidirectional. Mast cells can also affect disruption/permeabilization of the blood-brain barrier and this has the potential for dramatically altering the neuroinflammatory state.

With respect to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), ALS, and Huntington’s disease (HD), mast cell perturbation of the blood-brain barrier appears to share a commonality. Moreover, mast cells have been found to home to sites of amyloid deposition in AD; and, an inhibitor of mast cell function was shown to reduce cognitive decline in AD patients. Mast cell interactions with neurons and glial cells have also been implicated in PD pathogenesis. Emerging evidence suggests that mast cell autocrine signaling may contribute to ALS: The mast cell chemoattractant, IL-15, is elevated in the serum and cerebrospinal fluid of ALS patients; and, mast cells expressing IL-17 have been found in the spinal cord of ALS patients. Plasma levels of cytokines (IL-6, IL-8), known to affect mast cell activation, have been correlated with functional scores in HD patients suggesting the possible involvement of mast cells in the pathogenesis of HD.

A Natural Mechanism that Breaks Down α-Synuclein Aggregates

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/a-natural-mechanism-that-breaks-down-%ce%b1-synuclein-aggregates/

The brain exhibits a range of natural mechanisms for the clearance of various protein aggregates involved in neurodegenerative disease, both inside and outside the cells: clearance via immune cells; autophagy within cells; carried away via drainage of cerebrospinal fluid; and so forth. Clearly these mechanisms falter and become overwhelmed with advancing age, an outcome that results from a progressively increased burden of cell and tissue damage. Where a natural repair and maintenance mechanism exists, looking for ways to enhance that mechanism is one of the logical places to make a start on the development of viable therapies.


Aggregates of the protein alpha-synuclein in the nerve cells of the brain play a key role in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. These protein clumps can travel from nerve cell to nerve cell, causing the disease to progress. Relevant for these diseases are long but yet microscopic fibres, or fibrils, to which large numbers of the alpha-synuclein molecules can aggregate. Individual, non-aggregated alpha-synuclein molecules, however, are key to the functioning of a healthy brain, as this protein plays a key role in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in nerve cell synapses.

When the protein aggregates into fibrils in a person’s nerve cells – before which it must first change its three-dimensional shape – it can no longer carry out its normal function. The fibrils are also toxic to the nerve cells. In turn, dopamine-producing cells die, leaving the brain undersupplied with dopamine, which leads to typical Parkinson’s clinical symptoms such as muscle tremors. “Once the fibrils enter a new cell, they ‘recruit’ other alpha-synuclein molecules there, which then change their shape and aggregate together. This is how the fibrils are thought to infect cells one by one and, over time, take over entire regions of the brain.”

Researchers were able to decipher a cellular mechanism that breaks down alpha-synuclein fibrils naturally. A protein complex called SCF detects the alpha-synuclein fibrils specifically and targets them to a known cellular breakdown mechanism. In this way, the spread of fibrils is blocked, as the researchers demonstrated in tests on mice: when the researchers switched off SCF’s function, the alpha-synuclein fibrils were no longer cleared up in the nerve cells. Instead, they accumulated in the cells and spread throughout the brain.

The more active the SCF complex, the more the alpha-synuclein fibrils are cleared, which could slow down or eventually stop the progression of such neurodegenerative diseases. The SCF complex is very short-lived, dissipating within minutes. Therapeutic approaches would focus on stabilising the complex and increasing its ability to interact with alpha-synuclein fibrils. For example, drugs could be developed for this purpose. “However, when it comes to potential therapies, we’re still right at the beginning. whether effective therapies can be developed is still unclear.”

Extremely Long Lived Cells are Found in Many Tissues, Not Just the Brain

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/extremely-long-lived-cells-are-found-in-many-tissues-not-just-the-brain/

Researchers here report that the brain is not the only organ to exhibit cells that are as long-lived as the animal containing them. A number of other organs contain at least some long-lived cells, even for tissues thought to be highly regenerative and in which tissue turnover is comparatively rapid, such as the liver. It remains to be seen as to how this new information interacts with present thinking on the damage of aging, in which there is a central role for a reduction in stem cell activity and consequent loss of new cells generated to replace old tissue populations.


Scientists once thought that neurons, or possibly heart cells, were the oldest cells in the body. Now, researchers have discovered that the mouse brain, liver, and pancreas contain populations of cells and proteins with extremely long lifespans – some as old as neurons. “We were quite surprised to find cellular structures that are essentially as old as the organism they reside in. This suggests even greater cellular complexity than we previously imagined and has intriguing implications for how we think about the aging of organs, such as the brain, heart, and pancreas.”

Since the researchers knew that most neurons are not replaced during the lifespan, they used them as an “age baseline” to compare other non-dividing cells. The team combined electron isotope labeling with a hybrid imaging method (MIMS-EM) to visualize and quantify cell and protein age and turnover in the brain, pancreas and liver in young and old rodent models. To validate their method, the scientists first determined the age of the neurons, and found that – as suspected – they were as old as the organism. Yet, surprisingly, the cells that line blood vessels, called endothelial cells, were also as old as neurons. This means that some non-neuronal cells do not replicate or replace themselves throughout the lifespan.

The pancreas, an organ responsible for maintaining blood sugar levels and secreting digestive enzymes, also showed cells of varying ages. A small portion of the pancreas, known as the islets of Langerhans, appeared to the researchers as a puzzle of interconnected young and old cells. Some beta cells, which release insulin, replicated throughout the lifetime and were relatively young, while some did not divide and were long-lived, similar to neurons. Yet another type of cell, called delta cells, did not divide at all. The pancreas was a striking example of age mosaicism, i.e., a population of identical cells that are distinguished by their lifespans.

Prior studies have suggested that the liver has the capacity to regenerate during adulthood, so the researchers selected this organ expecting to observe relatively young liver cells. To their surprise, the vast majority of liver cells in healthy adult mice were found to be as old as the animal, while cells that line blood vessels, and stellate-like cells, another liver cell type, were much shorter lived. Thus, unexpectedly, the liver also demonstrated age mosaicism.

Cellular Antioxidant Defenses Measured in Blood Samples Decline with Age

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/cellular-antioxidant-defenses-measured-in-blood-samples-decline-with-age/

Cells are in a constant state of generating oxidative molecules, clearing those molecules via the use of antioxidant proteins, and repairing the damage caused by oxidative reactions. Researchers here show that aging is accompanied by declining amounts of the natural antioxidants involved in clearing oxidizing molecules from cells, preventing them from reacting with cellular machinery to cause damage. This is an unfortunate downstream consequence of the underlying causes of aging, one that will cause further dysfunction in cells. Exactly how and why this is a feature of aging, the exact chain of cause and effect that leads from the underlying damage to this result, remains to be determined. At the present time, the fastest approach to answering that sort of inquiry is likely to build rejuvenation biotechnologies that can repair specific forms of molecular damage thought to cause aging, and then see what happens when the therapies are applied in animal studies.


An integral part of aerobic metabolism is reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation which should be analyzed according to its two main functions. On the one hand, ROS plays an important role in biomodulating and regulating many cellular functions, such as defense against pathogens, signal transduction processes during transmission of intercellular information, and activation of specific transcription factors. On the other hand, an excessive quantity of ROS has a deleterious effect on cells, reacting with a variety of molecules and thereby interfering with cellular functions. To cope with the elevated generation of ROS, ROS-scavenging biochemical pathways have been developed in aerobic cells.

In recent years there have been a lot of studies supporting the role of ROS in molecular aging mechanisms. The confirmation of oxidative stress increase with age of diverse organisms, and the generation of transgenic invertebrates overexpressing the antioxidant enzymes with increased lifespan were among the most important results of these studies. Nevertheless, there were no alterations in the lifespan in most of the examined mouse models, which under- or overexpressed a wide variety of genes coding for antioxidant enzymes. Thus, the role of oxidative stress in aging mammals is not fully understood and still demands further inquiries.

In this study, analysis of antioxidant defense was performed on the blood samples from 184 “aged” individuals aged 65-90+ years, and compared to the blood samples of 37 individuals just about at the beginning of aging, aged 55-59 years. Statistically significant decreases of Zn,Cu-superoxide dismutase (SOD-1), catalase (CAT), and glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) activities were observed in elderly people in comparison with the control group. Moreover, an inverse correlation between the activities of SOD-1, CAT, and GSH-Px and the age of the examined persons was found. No age-related changes in glutathione reductase activities and malondialdehyde concentrations were observed. These lower activities of fundamental antioxidant enzymes indicate the impairment of antioxidant defense in the erythrocytes of elderly people.

Towards Bioprinted Corneas

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/towards-bioprinted-corneas/

While no tissues can be said to be simple, some are simpler than others. In the past decade, tissue engineers have made considerable progress towards the manufacture of these simpler tissues, from the starting point of cells and scaffold materials. Bioprinting, a form of rapid prototyping, has proven to be an important class of approach. The research noted here is a representative example of progress towards the production of corneas to replace those that are damaged by accident or age, and thus eliminate the need for donor tissue.


When a person has a severely damaged cornea, a corneal transplant is required. For this reason, many scientists have put their efforts in developing an artificial cornea. The existing artificial cornea uses recombinant collagen or is made of chemical substances such as synthetic polymer. Therefore, it does not incorporate well with the eye or is not transparent after the cornea implant. Now, researchers have 3D printed an artificial cornea using the bioink which is made of decellularized corneal stroma and stem cells. Because this cornea is made of corneal tissue-derived bioink, it is biocompatible, and 3D cell printing technology recapitulates the corneal microenvironment, therefore, its transparency is similar to the human cornea.

The human cornea is organized in a lattice pattern of collagen fibrils. The lattice pattern in the cornea is directly associated with the transparency of cornea, and many researches have tried to replicate the human cornea. However, there was a limitation in applying to corneal transplantation due to the use of cytotoxic substances in the body, their insufficient corneal features including low transparency, and so on. To solve this problem, the research team used shear stress generated in the 3D printing to manufacture the corneal lattice pattern and demonstrated that the cornea by using a corneal stroma-derived decellularized extracellular matrix bioink was biocompatible.

In the 3D printing process, when ink in the printer comes out through a nozzle and passes through the nozzle, frictional force produces shear stress. The research team successfully produced transparent artificial cornea with the lattice pattern of human cornea by regulating the shear stress to control the pattern of collagen fibrils. The research team also observed that the collagen fibrils remodeled along with the printing path create a lattice pattern similar to the structure of native human cornea after 4 weeks in vivo.

The Contribution of Reactive Astrocytes to Neurodegeneration

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/the-contribution-of-reactive-astrocytes-to-neurodegeneration/

Neurodegenerative diseases have a strong inflammatory component, the dysregulation of the immune system in the brain, with consequences to tissue function. In the process of astrogliosis, the supporting cells known as astrocytes react to damaging or inflammatory circumstances, and radically change their behavior. This can help in the short term for some forms of injury to the central nervous system, but is harmful when it continues for the long term. Like microglia, another supporting cell type, astrocytes can adopt different packages of behaviors, or phenotypes, and switch back and forth between them in response to circumstances. The primary distinction of interest in these is between (a) a supportive, regenerative phenotype, and (b) an aggressive, inflammatory phenotype. The latter tends to show up ever more often as aging progresses, and this imbalance is the cause of further harms.


Astrocytes are the most abundant cells with various structures and functions and are ubiquitous in all regions of the central nervous system (CNS). Astrocytes are associated with various aspects of physiological functions, including secretion of nutrients, maintenance of neuronal microenvironment, regulation of the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and the development of pathological processes in the brain. Studies on mouse models have shown that astrocytes play a complex role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, and the dysfunction of astrocytes may contribute to either neuronal death or the process of neural disturbances. It has been found that reactive astrocytes always lose their supportive role and gain toxic function in the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

During brain insult or neurodegeneration process, astrocytes can respond to pathological changes by releasing extracellular molecules, such as neurotrophic factors (for example BDNF, VEGF, and bFGF), inflammatory factors (including IL-1β, TNF-α, and NO, etc.) and cytotoxins (such as Lcn2) through reactive astrogliosis. As a result, they play either a neuroprotective or neurotoxic role (such as provoking inflammation or increasing damages) in the CNS. It has been shown that the specific deletion of STAT3 in astrocytes can cause reactive gliosis, which leads to increased level of inflammation, tissue damage as well as compromised motor recovery after spinal cord injury. Interestingly, some studies have shown that the activation of NF-κB in astrocytes contributes to the pathogenesis of CNS, and inhibition of this signaling pathway can limit tissue damage.

These findings suggest that astrocytes may play a protective role through STAT3 signaling pathways in some neurodegenerative lesions, while NF-κB signals may mediate neurotoxicity. In analogy to the “M1” and “M2” phenotype categories for macrophages, recent studies have reported that neural inflammation and ischemia can induce two types of reactive astrocytes, termed “A1” and “A2”, respectively. Gene transcriptome analysis of reactive astrocytes shows that A1 reactive astrocytes (A1s) can upregulate many classical complement cascade genes that are destructive to synapses, and secret neurotoxins that have not yet been well identified. In contrast, A2 reactive astrocytes (A2s) can upregulate many neurotrophic factors, which can promote either the survival and growth of neurons or the synaptic repair. Thus, A1s may have “harmful” features, while A2s may carry “useful” or repair functions. So far, it remains unclear what the possible signaling pathways have been involved in inducing the phenotypes of A1s and A2s in the process of different initiating CNS injuries.

People Remain Hopeful that Something Useful can be Accomplished with Minoxidil

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/people-remain-hopeful-that-something-useful-can-be-accomplished-with-minoxidil/

Minoxidil is, of course, the well known basis for certain popular hair growth products. That outcome was an accident, however, as the compound originally entered clinical trials – some 30 years ago – as a possible treatment for hypertension, or chronic raised blood pressure. The primary mechanism of interest is that minoxidil spurs greater deposition of elastin in blood vessel walls and other tissues, thereby reversing a fraction of the progressive loss of elastin that takes place over the course of aging.

Elastin, as one might guess from the name, is a component of the extracellular matrix responsible for the elasticity exhibited by tissues such as skin and blood vessels. Hypertension is caused by the age-related stiffening of blood vessels, which leads to a dysregulation of pressure control systems in our biochemistry. This then speeds up the progression of atherosclerosis and heart failure, and in addition produces an accelerated rate of capillary rupture and consequent damage in delicate tissues such as the brain and kidney. It is a very import aspect of age-related degeneration.

It is interesting to see researchers still working on minoxidil. The original clinical trials for hypertension, while leading to an approved drug, showed that minoxidil causes edema around the heart at useful doses for the elastin deposition effect, a potentially severe consequence. For me, that is more than enough to reconsider its use in this way. During the early studies and trials, hair growth in the patients was noted, and the rest of the development program thereafter is history. It is possible that now, with a far greater ability to take a small molecule as a starting point and build different versions with different characteristics, it is plausible to build a minoxidil analog that doesn’t have the serious side-effects at usefully high doses, where that was simply not possible in earlier decades. We shall see.


Arterial wall elastic fibers, made of 90% elastin, are arranged into elastic lamellae which are responsible for the resilience and elastic properties of the large arteries (aorta and its proximal branches). Elastin is synthesized only in early life and adolescence mainly by the vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) through the cross-linking of its soluble precursor, tropoelastin. In normal aging, the elastic fibers become fragmented and the mechanical load is transferred to collagen fibers, which are 100-1000 times stiffer than elastic fibers.

Minoxidil, an ATP-dependent K+ channel opener, has been shown to stimulate elastin expression in vitro and in vivo in the aorta of young adult hypertensive rats. Here, we have studied the effect of a 3-month chronic oral treatment with minoxidil (120 mg/L in drinking water) on the abdominal aorta structure and function in adult (6-month-old) and aged (24-month-old) male and female mice. Our results show that minoxidil treatment preserves elastic lamellae integrity, which is accompanied by the formation of newly synthesized elastic fibers in aged mice. This led to a generally decreased pulse pressure and a significant improvement of the arterial biomechanical properties in female mice, which present an increased distensibility and a decreased rigidity of the aorta. Our studies show that minoxidil treatment reversed some of the major adverse effects of arterial aging in mice and could be an interesting anti-arterial aging agent, also potentially usable for young female-targeted therapies.

Talking with Laura Deming: Aging is the World’s Most Important Problem

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2019/06/talking-with-laura-deming-aging-is-the-worlds-most-important-problem/

Laura Deming is one of the people influential in the sweeping shift of the past few years in research and development of therapies to treat aging, in which rejuvenation biotechnologies such as senolytic therapies finally started the move from the laboratory into startup companies, on the way to the clinic. She founded the first venture fund to specialize in what people are now calling the longevity sector of the biotech industry, somewhat before that longevity sector actually existed in any meaningful way. Now, of course, funding is pouring into this area of development; the years ahead will be interesting. Now is very much the time for entrepreneurs to step up, find viable projects in aging and longevity, raise the funds, and carry them forward into clinical development.


At 25, Laura Deming has already achieved more in her chosen field – anti-ageing – than many people twice her age. At 12 she was researching the biology of ageing in the laboratory of one of the world’s leading scientists; at 14 she went to study physics at MIT, only to drop out at 17 and start a venture capital fund under the guidance of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Aubrey de Grey, the English gerontologist who has suggested that humans might live to be 1,000, calls Deming an “utter genius” for her scientific and investment “brilliance”.

There is a long history of charlatans selling the cure to getting old. However, Deming is no biohacker; she isn’t fiddling with diet, exercise, or pills to add an extra year or two to her life. Her ambition is far greater: to accelerate anti-ageing science so that everyone can live healthier lives for longer. To that end, she founded the Longevity Fund in 2011, when she was still a teenager, to invest in biotech companies making treatments for age-related diseases.

When Deming decided to start raising money to get anti-ageing research out of the lab, she was still too young to sign the paperwork – her father had to do it on her behalf. She received some advice from Peter Thiel but confesses that she really did not know what she was doing. “You’d google ‘How to start a venture capital fund’ and there were just no articles,” she says, amazed. For the first two years of the fund, Deming tried to sell investors on the “science and the humanitarian issues at stake”. “Honestly, for two years I gave the same pitch of, here’s a 20 billion market and here’s all the people who are dying, can someone help them? And everyone was like, ‘That’s amazing, you’re such a good person’, and nobody invested,” she laughs. She learned she needed to link her passion for the cause to a “very concrete business case”.

The fund’s first investment, in Unity Biotechnology, helped her to do that. Unity is developing a drug that targets senescent cells – decrepit cells that refuse to die. If it works, the drug could be used to treat age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis, eye diseases, and pulmonary diseases. Unity went public last year and now has a valuation of more than 350 million. “Having a concrete case to show potential investors … that was what brought it together.” Deming’s biggest fear is the hype cycle: what if a few early anti-ageing trials flop, and the money goes away? “That gives me a lot of fear, because it’s a field that is still very early. There’s a lot of stuff that’s still being figured out, and I think a lot of things will fail.”

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The truth about sugar addiction

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Sugar is one of the most harmful and addictive substances that you can consume, as it’s associated with various metabolic diseases.1 Nowadays, it’s found in almost everything you eat.

In fact, the average American consumes around 17.4 teaspoons of sugar per day — that’s more than 5 teaspoons higher than the average sugar intake recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020.2 A 2015 article from The Washington Post states that the U.S. even ranks first in the countries that consume the highest amount of sugar.3

According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, around 75% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets contain added sugar. This includes processed foods like sweet snacks, cereals, energy drinks, fruit juices and baked goods. It’s even present in infant food and baby formula, exposing children to numerous health issues at a very young age.4

But avoiding sugar is not as simple as skipping sweet foods, as savory foods, like salad dressing and pizza, contain this ingredient as well. Sugar hides behind 61 different names in food labels, the most common of which include sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, glucose, maltose, lactose and fruit juice concentrate, among others.5,6

What makes sugar so addicting?

When you eat sugary foods, the reward center of your brain, known as the nucleus accumbens, is stimulated through increased signals of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in your perception of pleasure.7

Because eating sugar makes you feel good, you’re likely to eat it often. As you consume excessive amounts of sugar on a regular basis, your body’s dopamine signals become weaker and you develop tolerance, so you have to eat more sugar to get the same level of reward, eventually resulting in sugar addiction. This is why manufacturers use sugar to drive your behavior.8

There have been many studies regarding the addictive potential of sugar.9,10 For instance, a 2018 review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine states that “sugar has been found to produce more symptoms than is required to be considered an addictive substance.”

It exhibits drug-like effects such as bingeing, craving, tolerance, withdrawal, cross-sensitization, cross-tolerance and cross-dependence.11 Another study published in the journal Neuroscience states that intermittent bingeing on sucrose and abusing drugs can both increase extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens.12

60 ways sugar can ruin your health

Excessive sugar consumption is associated with chronic metabolic problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.13 Aside from these, there have been numerous studies spanning decades that demonstrate the other ways in which eating too much sugar can lead to detrimental effects to your health. I counted 60 of these health risks, divided into four categories:

Nutrient imbalance or deficiency

  1. Upsets the mineral relationships in your body14
  2. Causes chromium deficiency15
  3. Interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium16
  4. Increases total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad cholesterol levels17
  5. Decreases good cholesterol levels18
  6. Lowers vitamin E levels19

Behavioral changes

  1. Leads to addiction and intoxication, similar to alcohol20,21
  2. Increases hyperactivity22 and depressive symptoms23
  3. Causes difficulty in concentrating and drowsiness24
  4. Reduces learning capacity and can cause learning disorders25
  5. Increases the risk for antisocial behavior26
  6. Decreases emotional stability27
  7. Increases the risk for alcoholism28

Increased risk of diseases

  1. Promotes cancer cell growth29
  2. Increases fasting levels of glucose30,31
  3. Increases blood pressure levels32
  4. increases platelet adhesion, which could put you at risk of arterial thrombotic conditions33
  5. Leads to formation of kidney stones and gallstones34,35
  6. Promotes excessive food intake through rapid sugar absorption36
  7. Increases the risk for obesity37
  8. Decreases insulin sensitivity, leading to high insulin levels and eventually diabetes38
  9. Causes reactive hypoglycemia39
  10. Triggers dizziness40 and headaches, including migraines41
  11. Makes you more prone to gastrointestinal tract problems42
  12. Promotes chronic degenerative diseases43
  13. Causes atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases44
  14. Causes cataracts and nearsightedness45
  15. May lead to autoimmune diseases like arthritis, asthma and multiple sclerosis46
  16. Increases the risk for lung cancer47
  17. Contributes to osteoporosis48
  18. Promotes the progression of Parkinson’s disease49
  19. Increases the risk of gout and Alzheimer’s disease50,51
  20. Increases acidity of the saliva and causes tooth decay and periodontal diseases52,53
  21. Promotes uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infection)54
  22. Leads to toxemia in pregnancy55
  23. Worsens symptoms of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)56
  24. May lead to epileptic seizures57

Bodily impairments

  1. Impairs metabolic processes in a normal healthy individual58
  2. Suppresses the immune system, which increases risk of contracting infectious diseases59
  3. Reduces tissue elasticity and function60
  4. Leads to weaker eyesight61
  5. Accelerate aging62
  6. Increases advanced glycation end products wherein sugar molecules attach to proteins and end up damaging them63
  7. Impairs DNA and collagen structure64
  8. Alters collagen structure65
  9. Worsens signs of skin aging66
  10. Lowers the ability of your enzymes to function67
  11. Promotes fat accumulation in the liver68
  12. Increases the risk for kidney and pancreatic damage69,70
  13. Contributes to salt and fluid retention71
  14. Affects urinary electrolyte composition72
  15. Impairs normal function of the adrenal glands73
  16. Compromises lining of capillaries74
  17. Weakens your tendons75
  18. Can cause an increase in delta, alpha and theta brain waves, which results in the inability to think clearly76
  19. Causes hormonal imbalances77,78
  20. Increases free radicals and oxidative stress79
  21. Leads to substantial decrease in gestation, with a twofold increased risk for delivering a small-for-gestational-age infant80
  22. Causes dehydration among newborns81
  23. Affects carbon dioxide production when given to infants82

How to manage sugar addiction

It’s never too late to kick your sugar-loading habits to the curb. Here are some of my recommendations to help manage or limit your sugar consumption:

1. Limit your sugar intake — Sugar in its natural form is not bad provided that it’s consumed in moderation. Generally, your total sugar consumption should be below 25 grams per day from all sources, including sugar that you get from whole fruits. However, if you have insulin or leptin resistance, it’s ideal to limit your fructose intake to as little as 15 grams per day until you’ve normalized your insulin and leptin levels.

2. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — This sweetener is made from corn and found in many of the food items that you eat and drink today. It’s considered to be dangerous not only because of the amount of sugar that it contains, but also because of the health risks that it can cause, most of which are mentioned above.83

fructose overload

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3. Increase your consumption of healthy fats — Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, saturated fats and monounsaturated fats, are your body’s preferred source of fuel. The best sources of these include grass fed butter, coconut oil, free-range eggs, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, avocado and raw nuts like pecans and macadamia.

4. Add fermented foods into your diet — Eating fermented foods like kimchi, natto, organic yogurt and kefir may help reduce the negative effects of excessive sugar on your liver by supporting your digestive function and detoxification.

5. Drink pure water — Instead of drinking sweetened beverages like soda and fruit juices, I recommend that you rehydrate your body with pure, clean water.

6. Try the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) — Food cravings are sometimes triggered by an emotional need, such as wanting to relieve stress or feel a little happier after a tiring day.84 EFT is a simple and effective psychological acupressure technique that could help you manage the emotional components of your cravings.

It has been proven to help relieve emotional traumas, ease phobias and post-traumatic stresses, break down food cravings and lessen physical pain and discomfort. What EFT entails in its practitioners is to have the right mindset when going on a diet or just taking steps to improve on their health. If you’re already curious, you can browse through the basics of EFT here.

Aside from the recommendations mentioned above, I recommend exercising every day, along with optimizing your vitamin D levels, getting enough sleep and managing your stress levels. These strategies may help minimize the effects of excessive sugar intake. Exercise in particular is known to improve insulin sensitivity,85 reduce stress levels,86 suppress ghrelin (the appetite hormone),87 speed up metabolism,88 strengthen bones89 and boost your mood.90

It can be quite difficult to say no to sweets, especially if you have been consuming them on a daily basis, but once you feel the effects that lowering your sugar intake has on your body, it will all be worth it.

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Cellular Senescence as a Program of the Innate Immune System

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The authors of today’s open access research offer an interesting viewpoint on cellular senescence in the context of cancer, presenting it as an aspect of the innate immune response to the signs of cancer-inducing mutational damage, or to the signs of cancer suppression programs operating in cells. The objective of the body’s numerous, layered defenses against cancer is to destroy all cells that show the signs of becoming cancerous. The first line of defense is the state of cellular senescence, in which cells shut down their ability to replicate, prime themselves to self-destruct via the programmed cell death path of apoptosis, and alert the immune system via a mix of inflammatory secretions known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). These secretions also raise the odds of other surrounding cells becoming senescent, which in theory helps to stay ahead of the replication of an early cancer.

Cellular senescence in this context of cancer is likely an adaptation of an existing tool. Transient cellular senescence occurs during embryonic growth and wound healing, a way to help guide structure and regeneration. That it can also help to shut down early stage cancer has the look of a later development. Unfortunately cellular senescence is an imperfect tool: senescent cells are not reliably removed by the immune system, and they do not reliably self-destruct. Some tiny fraction linger, and their continued inflammatory secretions are an important contributing cause of aging and age-related disease.

In recent years, the research community has found ways to selectively destroy a fraction of the senescent cells present in old tissues. This approach to the treatment of aging reliably extends life span and reverses numerous age-related diseases in mice. Numerous companies are working on ways to destroy senescent cells, and the first therapies are entering human trials. Meanwhile, ever more funding is flowing towards fundamental research into the biochemistry of senescence, as there are likely many more potential approaches to the destruction or management of senescent cells yet to be discovered. This point is illustrated well in the open access paper here, as the authors propose a new point of intervention based on their research.

The innate immune sensor Toll-like receptor 2 controls the senescence-associated secretory phenotype


We describe here an essential innate immune signaling pathway in oncogene-induced senescence (OIS) established between TLR2 and acute-phase serum amyloid A1 and serum amyloid A2 (A-SAAs) that initiates the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) and reinforce cellular senescence in vitro and in vivo. We also identify new important SASP components, A-SAAs, which are the senescence-associated damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) sensed by TLR2 after oncogenic stress. Therefore, we are reporting that innate immune sensing is critical in senescence. We propose that cellular senescence shares mechanistic features with the activation of innate immune cells and could be considered a program of the innate immune response by which somatic cells switch their regular role to acquire an immune function under certain conditions of stress and danger, for instance, upon oncogene activation.

Besides revealing a role for TLR2 in SASP induction and cell cycle regulation, we identified the DAMP that activates TLR2 in OIS. Acute-phase proteins SAA1 and SAA2 act to prime the TLR2-mediated inflammasome, and in turn, their full induction depends on TLR2 function. Hence, they establish a foundational feedback loop that controls the SASP. A-SAAs are systemically produced in the liver and released into the bloodstream during an acute inflammatory response. Our identification of these molecules as mediators of senescence suggests that systemic elevation of A-SAAs might have an impact on the accumulation of senescent cells and the activation of their proinflammatory program at the organismal level.

We found activation of TLR2 expression in parallel to A-SAAs in models of OIS in mice, in inflammation-induced senescence, in aging, and in different in vitro systems of senescence. Also, we have shown that TLR2 controls the activation of the SASP and OIS in vivo. Moreover, we have observed a dose-dependent effect for TLR2 in A-SAA sensing and a role for TLR2 in SASP activation during paracrine senescence. Together, these data suggest that systemic A-SAA elevation during acute inflammation could affect cells expressing TLR2, thereby promoting aging and other pathological roles of senescence. Further investigation may reveal additional physiological circumstances under which senescence is induced or reinforced by the interaction of TLR2 with A-SAAs or indeed with other endogenous DAMPs or exogenous pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) from the microbiome. These circumstances could have implications for organismal well-being, in particular, the development of aging and cancer.

In recent years, several strategies have been implemented to eliminate senescent cells or to modulate the activation of the SASP in anti-aging and cancer therapies (senotherapies). For example, genetic targeting for the elimination of senescent cells can delay organismal aging and aging-associated disorders. Furthermore, the pharmacological suppression of the SASP has been shown to improve homeostasis in tissue damage and aging. However, most of these manipulations are directed to essential homeostatic regulators such as mTOR or crucial proinflammatory mediators such as IL-1 signaling. Here, we propose the alternative of manipulating A-SAA-TLR2 as a new rationale for senotherapies aiming to manipulate nonessential and senescence-specific signaling pathways.

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Tissues are supported by dense and intricate networks of capillaries, hundreds passing through any square millimeter cross-section. Many studies have shown that capillary density decreases with age, which is perhaps another of the many results of faltering tissue maintenance due to the decline in stem cell activity, or alternatively, a specific dysregulation of the processes of angiogenesis at the small scale, resulting from inappropriate cellular reactions to rising levels of damage and chronic inflammation. Fewer capillaries means a lesser delivery of nutrients and oxygen, and we might well wonder to what degree this contributes to atrophy and dysfunction in energy hungry tissues such as muscles and the brain.

In this context, consider of the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging, known as sarcopenia. While sarcopenia is associated with a long, long list of potential contributing mechanisms, arguably the best evidence suggests that this loss of muscle capacity is caused by the declining activity of muscle stem cell populations. This connects well with a decline in capillary density, in that we can theorize either side as cause or consequence of the other. Another possible contributing factor is age-related mitochondrial dysfunction. Given that mitochondria are the power plants of the cell, responsible for transforming energy from nutrients into a form that cells can use, here too the possible connections to declining capillary density are obvious.

The two different approaches to this challenge are quite different. On the one hand, the first and more mainstream approach would be to attempt to override changes in the regulation of angiogenesis, forcing different expression levels in various regulatory proteins in order to generate greater generation of blood vessels. This strategy can produce benefits, but because it fails to address the underlying causes, the benefits are necessarily limited. The damage of aging marches on, causing all of its other consequences. One might look at past efforts to control raised blood pressure or chronic inflammation to see the plausible beneficial outcomes that can emerge from tackling important facets of aging in ways that do not repair the causes. The second, and as yet less popular – but better! – approach is to repair the damage that causes aging, and thus remove the dysregulation in angiogenesis and tissue maintenance that way. Sadly, this path forward is nowhere near as popular and well funded as it should be.

A Microcirculatory Theory of Aging


The term “microcirculation” in contrast with macrocirculation (which is the flow of blood to and from organs), refers to a network of terminal vessels comprising arterioles, capillaries and venules that are less than 100 μm in diameter. In other words, the microcirculation is defined as the blood flow through the smallest vessels in the vasculature and are embedded within organs and tissues, which facilitate the exchange of biological material between the blood and tissue via its large surface area and low blood velocity in these regions. For organs to function well, there must be sufficient perfusion throughout the tissue in the form of intact and appropriate microcirculatory vascularization.

There is a substantial number of studies presenting strong evidence of decreased vessel density with age, indicating an age-associated failure of vascular recovery in organs such as the brain in animals and humans alike. In studies involving aged rodents: healthy senescent rats (29 months) experienced a loss of about 40% of arteriolar density on the cortical surface compared with young adult rats (13 months). In the hippocampus of aged rats, there was a 20% decrease in capillary number, 3% decrease in capillary length, and 24% increase in intercapillary distance. Comparable reductions could also be found in other brain regions including the brain stem, cortex, and white matter. In studies involving aged humans: Capillary density decreased by 16% in the calcarine cortex while vascular density decreased by 50% in the paraventricular nucleus, frontal cortex, and putamen. Importantly, angiogenesis has been found to be impaired in aged tissues, which could contribute to the significant decreases in vascular density and number that has been reported.

Factors of vascular aging are reported to be closely associated with chronological age. Indeed, alterations in vascular mechanics and structure are related with vascular aging, resulting in less elastic arteries and diminished arterial compliance. Furthermore, the increased diffusion distance for oxygen caused by reduced capillary numbers and density, gives rise to heterogeneous perfusion, where the close proximity of perfused capillaries and non-perfused capillaries triggers alterations to oxygen extraction even when blood flow to the tissue is conserved.

Under normal physiological conditions, the microcirculatory blood flow is adapted to the metabolic levels of human tissues and organs, so the physiological functions of various organs in the human body can function as they should. Once the microcirculation of the human body is impaired, cells would not be able to get enough nutrition and oxygen, and meanwhile, CO2 and metabolic products, including those that are toxic, cannot be removed and will accumulate. Consequently, deterioration of physiological functions of cells and then organs that are necessary for survival and reproduction will occur. Microcirculatory impairment arises in adulthood and becomes progressively impaired with aging; the corresponding tissue system or internal organs are affected and unable to function normally, which eventually lead to aging. Therefore, aging is the process of continuous impairment of microcirculation in the body.

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